July 8, 2013

San Francisco crash investigators turn to cockpit decisions

Authorities also say a fire truck may have accidentally run over one of the teenagers killed in the crash at San Francisco International Airport.

The Associated Press

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An unidentified family member of the two girls killed during the Asiana Airlines plane crash on Saturday, cries at the Asiana Airlines counter as she and other family members check infer the flight to San Francisco at the Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, China, Monday, July 8, 2013. The Asiana Airlines flight crashed while landing at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday, killing at least two people, injuring dozens of others and forcing passengers to jump down the emergency inflatable slides to safety as flames tore through the plane. The flight originated in Shanghai, China, and stopped over in Seoul, South Korea, before coming to San Francisco, airport officials said. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

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In this Saturday, July 6, 2013 aerial photo, the wreckage of Asiana Flight 214 lies on the ground after it crashed at the San Francisco International Airport, in San Francisco. The pilot at the controls of airliner had just 43 hours of flight time in the Boeing 777 and was landing one for the first time at San Francisco International. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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NTSB crash findings

Asiana Flight 214 makes its final approach after a 10-hour flight that started in Shanghai and stopped in Seoul. A preliminary review of the crash by federal investigators turns up the following:

APPROACH PROCEEDS NORMALLY ... the plane receives clearance from air traffic control to land without its instrument landing system. Visibility is about 10 miles with winds out of the southwest at 7 knots. There are no distress calls or requests for support in the air traffic control tapes that captured the discussion between a controller and the Asiana crew.

PLANE DESCENDS ... at 1,600 feet and 82 seconds before impact the autopilot disengages. At 1,400 feet and 73 seconds before impact, the plane's speed is about 196 mph. At 1,000 feet and 54 seconds before impact, the plane slows to about 171 mph. At 500 feet and 34 seconds before impact, the plane is traveling at about 154 mph, and at 200 feet and 16 seconds before impact, the plane is traveling at 136 mph.

EIGHT SECONDS OUT ... at an altitude of 125 feet, the throttles began moving forward. The plane is traveling at about 129 mph.

SEVEN SECONDS OUT ... the crew asks to increase its air speed.

FOUR SECONDS OUT ... the stick shaker, a yolk the pilots hold, begins shaking, indicating the plane could stall.

THREE SECONDS OUT ... the plane is traveling at 119 mph, the slowest speed recorded by the flight data recorder. That is 39 mph below the approximately 158 mph it should have been going as it crossed the runway. The engines are at 50 percent power and engine power is increasing.

1.5 SECONDS OUT ... the crew calls to abort the landing and go around for another try.

CRASH ... the plane, traveling at 122 mph, hits a seawall. The controller declares an emergency. The pilots talk to air traffic control and emergency vehicles are deployed.

Over the next 42 seconds, the plane appeared to descend normally, reaching about 500 feet and slowing to 134 knots (154 mph), a 777 pilot for a major airline familiar with Hersman's description told The Associated Press. The pilot spoke on the condition of anonymity because his company had not authorized him to speak publicly.

But something went wrong during the following 18 seconds. The plane continued slowing to 118 knots (136 mph), well below its target speed of 137 knots (158 mph) that is typical for crossing the runway threshold. By that time, it had descended to just 200 feet.

Eight seconds later, with the speed still falling, Hersman said, the throttles were moved forward, an apparent attempt by the pilot to increase speed. But it was too little, too late.

Five seconds later, at 50 percent power, speed began to increase.

A key question raised by the NTSB's account is why two experienced pilots — the pilot flying the plane and another supervising pilot in the other seat — apparently didn't notice the plane's airspeed problem.

Part of the answer to that question may lie in whether the pilot flying, after switching off the autopilot, still had the plane's autothrottle engaged during the descent.

Aviation safety experts have long warned that an overreliance on automation is contributing to an erosion of pilots' stick-and-rudder flying skills. It's too soon to say if that was the case in the Asiana crash, but it's something NTSB investigators will be exploring, they said.

"It sounds like they let the airplane get slow and it came out from under them," said John Cox, a former US Airways pilot and former Air Line Pilots Association air crash investigator.

"There are two real big questions here: Why did they let the airplane get that slow, and where was the non-flying pilot, the monitoring pilot, who should have been calling out 'airspeed, airspeed, airspeed,' " Cox said.

More than 180 people aboard the plane went to hospitals with injuries. But remarkably, 305 of 307 passengers and crew survived, and more than a third didn't even require hospitalization. Only a small number were badly hurt.

The passengers included 141 Chinese, 77 South Koreans, 64 Americans, three Canadians, three Indians, one Japanese, one Vietnamese and one person from France.

Three firefighters — and two police officers without safety gear — rushed onto the plane to help evacuate trapped passengers, including one who was trapped under a collapsed bulkhead.

They had gotten everyone off the craft except one elderly man, who was in his seat, moaning and unable to move.

"We were running out of time," San Francisco Fire Department Lt. Dave Monteverdi recalled Monday at a news conference. "The smoke was starting to get thicker and thicker. So we had no choice. We stood him up and amazingly, he started shuffling his feet. That was a good sign...we were able to get him out and he was pretty much the last person off the plane."

The two dead passengers were identified as 16-year-old students from China who were scheduled to attend summer camp in California with dozens of classmates.

One of their bodies was found on the tarmac near where the plane's tail broke off when it slammed into the runway, the other was found on the left side of the plane about 30 feet (10 meters) away from where the jetliner came to rest after it skidded down the runway.

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Additional Photos

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This aerial photo shows a United Airlines plane sitting on the adjacent runway next to the wreckage of the Asiana Flight 214 airplane after it crashed at the San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Saturday, July 6, 2013.

AP

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Deborah Hersman of the National Transportation Safety Board speaks at a news conference , Monday, July 8, 2013 in South San Francisco, Calif. An Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 crashed upon landing Saturday, July 6, at San Francisco International Airport, and two of the 307 passengers aboard were killed.

AP

 


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