Asiana Crew Tried to Abort Landing Seconds Before Crash, NTSB Eyeing Pilot Error
The pilots of the ill-fated Asiana Airlines jetliner that crashed on Saturday in San Francisco attempted to abort the landing and circle the runway seconds before the plane clipped an embankment separating the runway from the San Francisco Bay, according to National Transportation Safety Board chairman Deborah Hersman.
At a briefing on Sunday, Hersman said that a crew member had called for an increase in speed just before the crash. She said that the plane had been flying well below the speed needed to maintain a stable angle of approach. The cockpit recorder had recorded the sound of the control yoke shaking immediately prior to the crash, which serves as an indicator that the airplane was about to stall.
At 1.5 seconds before the crash, a pilot called for a go-round but the maneuver was too late to prevent the crash, even though the engines responded normally, Ms. Hersman said. It was at that point that the plane lost its tail section and skidded across the runway, catching fire.
The plane descended too fast because it had insufficient airspeed. It was reportedly descending more than four times the normal rate before it crashed.
The pilots may have made an error when performing the calculations needed to land and they should have recognized the unusually fast descent. The NTSB chairman’s comments indicate that investigators are focusing on why the pilots allowed the aircraft’s speed to decay to such an extent and why they failed to take corrective action until two seconds prior to impact.
The NTSB also said it was investigating whether the fact that the glide slope, a system that guides pilots to the proper landing slope, was inoperative due to construction at the airport contributed to the crash. Appearing on the CBS news program Face the Nation, Ms. Hersman said that the slide slope “had been out since June.” “We’re going to take a look into this to understand it,” she added. “But what is important to note is there are a lot of tools that are available to pilots [to land the plane in the absence of the glide slope].”
Two passengers were killed in the crash and 180 were injured.
Korean officials said that the main pilot on the flight to San Francisco was Lee Jeong-min, a captain with over 12,000 hours of flying time and 3,220 hours in Boeing 777 aircraft, the type involved in the Asiana crash. The pilot at the controls, Lee Kang-guk, had almost 10,000 flying hours albeit only 43 of them in a 777.
Although the glide slope indicator was not on at the time of landing, other tools, including a localizer, which allows an aircraft to line up along the center of the runway, were operative as were the airport’s red and white guide lights on the runway. Given the weather conditions and guide lights, a visual landing should not have presented any challenges to the cockpit crew, especially given their experience flying commercial aircraft.
Passengers were seen walking away unharmed after exiting via emergency slides in multiple photographs posted by other passengers on Twitter. The fire left a huge gash along top of the fuselage.
At a news conference in Seoul, South Korea on Sunday, Asiana president Yoon Young-doo apologized for the crash, saying, “We are deeply sorry for causing the trouble.” He said that the two deceased passengers were Chinese women in their teens.
Yoon also said that engine failure was likely not to be the cause of the crash. “We think there was no engine defect,” said Yoon.