July 11, 2013

Asiana passengers called 911 begging for help

San Francisco officials said ambulances could not come too close out of concern that the plane would explode.

By Martha Mendoza / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

The wreckage of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 sits on the tarmac in San Francisco. Investigators said the Boeing 777 was traveling "significantly below" the target speed during its approach and that the crew tried to abort the landing just before it smashed onto the runway.

AP

And she said when the plane came to a stop, pilots told passengers to stay seated for 90 seconds while they communicated with the tower as part of a safety procedure. Hersman said this has happened after earlier accidents and was not necessarily a problem. People did not begin fleeing the aircraft until 90 seconds later when a fire was spotted outside the plane.

Hersman stressed that while the trainee pilot was flying the plane, the instructor was ultimately responsible and, thus, the way they worked together will be scrutinized.

"That's what the airline needs to do, be responsible so that in the cockpit you're matching the best people, especially when you're introducing someone to a new aircraft," former NTSB Chairman James Hall said.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology aeronautics professor Mary Cummings said it's common for two commercial pilots who have never worked together before to be assigned to the same flight. But she said the military tries to have crews work together more permanently.

"Research would tell you that crew pairing with the same people over longer periods of time is safer," she said. "When two people fly together all the time, you get into a routine that's more efficient. You have experience communicating."

Details emerging from Asiana pilot interviews, cockpit recorders and control-tower communications indicate that Lee Gang-kuk, who was halfway through his certification training for the Boeing 777, and his co-pilot and instructor, Lee Jeong-Min, thought the airliner's speed was being controlled by an autothrottle set for 157 mph.

Inspectors found that the autothrottle had been "armed," or made ready for activation, Hersman said. But investigators are still determining whether it had been engaged. In the last two minutes, there was a lot of use of autopilot and autothrusters, and investigators are going to look into whether pilots made the appropriate commands and if they knew what they were doing, she said.

When the pilots realized the plane was approaching the waterfront runway too low and too slow, they both reached for the throttle. Passengers heard a loud roar as the plane revved up in a last-minute attempt to abort the landing.

The two pilots at the controls during the accident had also been in the cockpit for takeoff. Then they rested during the flight while a second pair of pilots took over. The two pairs swapped places again about 90 minutes before landing, giving the trainee a chance to fly during the more challenging approach phase.

Hersman cautioned against speculating about the cause of the crash. But she stressed that even if the autothrottle malfunctioned, the pilots were ultimately responsible for control of the airliner.

"There are two pilots in the cockpit for a reason," she said Wednesday. "They're there to fly, to navigate, to communicate and if they're using automation, a big key is to monitor."

Crash survivor Brian Thomson, who was returning from a martial arts competition in South Korea and walked away unscathed, said he's not concerned about the pilot's lack of experience with the airliner.

"At some point you have to start at hour one, hour two. It's just natural. Everyone starts a career someway, somehow. Starts a new plane someway, somehow. They have to have training," he said.

The flight originated in Shanghai and stopped over in Seoul before making the nearly 11-hour trip to San Francisco.

A dozen survivors remained hospitalized Wednesday, half flight attendants, including three thrown from the jet. Other survivors and their family members, meanwhile, visited the wreckage site, where some shed tears and others stood in disbelief, passenger Ben Levy said. They were kept about 50 yards away from the wreckage, which was surrounded by metal railing.

"What I think I really came for was to meet other fellow passengers and share a bit of our stories," Levy said. "How we felt and how we got out of that plane."

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