Investigation into Asiana 214 Crash Continues With Focus on Crew Actions

By Paul Riegler on 8 July 2013
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NTSB investigators at SFO

NTSB investigators at SFO

Following the first full day of the investigation into the crash of Asiana Flight 214, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Deborah Hersman, cautioned against making rash conclusions from preliminary information.  “We’re looking at some issues with respect to the crew,” she said. “We want to understand the humans, we want to understand the aircraft.”

The Boeing 777 that crashed in San Francisco on Saturday hit an embankment at the edge of the runway so hard that debris from the wall was found hundreds of feet away.  While two passengers died and 50 were seriously injured, over 100 passengers were able to walk away from the plane on their own.

NTSB investigators are interviewing the four pilots who were in the cockpit, three of them captains and one a pilot who had never landed a 777.  That last pilot was reportedly at the controls at the time of the accident.  Given picture-perfect weather and an experienced crew and the lack of evidence of any mechanical issues with the aircraft, nothing can be ruled out as the cause at this point.

Initial reports indicate that the plane’s airspeed was too slow, 103 knots, when it should have been 137 knots.  This could have occurred through pilot oversight, equipment failure, or the incorrect use of an automated system.  Cockpit gauges would have displayed both the current airspeed as well as the targeted speed.

The crew did get a low-speed warning called a stick shaker. At a briefing on Sunday, Hersman said that a crew member had called for an increase in speed just before the crash and that the plane had been flying well below the speed needed to maintain a stable angle of approach.  The NTSB said that the cockpit recorder had recorded the sound of the control yoke (also known as the stick shaker) shaking immediately prior to the crash, which served as an indicator that the airplane was about to stall.

At 1.5 seconds before the crash, when the plane was at an altitude of 125 feet, a pilot was heard to call for a go-round but the maneuver was too late to prevent the crash, even though the engines responded normally, Ms. Hersman said.  On a big plane such as the 777, the engines take time to develop sufficient power.

It was at that point that the plane lost its tail section and skidded across the runway, catching fire.

Preliminary reports also indicate that pilots on board Asiana flight 214 were following a routine visual approach.  Since late June, all flights landing in San Francisco have had to land without the benefit of an instrument-landing system as the approach aids have been temporarily turned off.

Prior to the crash, the pilots didn’t report any problems or declare an emergency, according to preliminary reports.

The plane had 291 passengers and 16 crewmembers on board.  According to a statement by Asiana, this included 77 Korean citizens, 141 Chinese citizens, 61 U.S. citizens, and 1 Japanese citizen.  In addition, the airline reported that 19 passengers were in business class and 272 were in the main cabin.


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