July 8, 2013

Slow landing speed of San Francisco jet probed

Officials say the probe is also focusing on whether the airport or plane's equipment also could have malfunctioned.

By Jason Dearen and Joan Lowy / The Associated Press

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Investigators work amid the wreckage of an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 in San Francisco as they try to determine the cause of Saturday’s accident. Two people died in the crash and officials say it appears the plane was flying too slow when it struck a sea wall just in front of the runway.

The Associated Press/NTSB

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ASIANA AIRLINES ACCIDENT SUMMARY

WHAT HAPPENED: The Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 crashed while landing after a likely 10-hour-plus flight from Seoul. The flight originated in Shanghai and stopped in Seoul before the long trek to San Francisco.

FULL FLIGHT: There were 307 people aboard. Two people aboard the plane died. Of the 182 injured people taken to hospitals, 19 remained hospitalized Sunday, six of them in critical condition. The remaining 133 had minor to moderate injuries, while many of the other passengers or crew members had more minor injuries that didn't require extra treatment. Thirty of the passengers were children.

PASSENGERS: South Korea's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said the plane's passengers included 141 Chinese, 77 South Koreans, 61 Americans, three Canadians, three from India, one Japanese, one Vietnamese and one from France, while the nationalities of the remaining three haven't been confirmed. Chinese state media identified the dead as two 16-year-old girls who were  students in China's eastern Zhejiang province.

Two other pilots were aboard, with teams of rotating at the controls.

The plane's Pratt & Whitney engines were on idle and the pilots were flying under visual flight rules, Hersman said. Under visual flight procedures in the Boeing 777, a wide-body jet, the autopilot would typically have been turned off while the automatic throttle, which regulates speed, would been on until the plane had descended to 500 feet (150 meters) in altitude, Coffman said. At that point, pilots would normally check their airspeed before switching off the autothrottle to continue a "hand fly" approach, he said.

There was no indication in the discussions between the pilots and the air traffic controllers that there were problems with the aircraft.

Survivors and rescuers said it was nothing less than astonishing that nearly everyone survived after a frightful scene of fire burning inside the fuselage, pieces of the aircraft scattered across the runway and people fleeing for their lives.

In the first comments on the crash by a crew member, cabin manager Lee Yoon-hye said that seconds before impact she felt that something was wrong.

"Right before touchdown, I felt like the plane was trying to take off. I was thinking 'what's happening?' and then I felt a bang," Lee told reporters Sunday night in San Francisco. "That bang felt harder than a normal landing. It was a very big shock. Afterward, there was another shock and the plane swayed to the right and to the left."

She said that during the evacuation, two inflatable slides that were supposed to inflate toward the outside instead inflated toward the inside of the plane, hurting two Asiana flight attendants. Pilots came to rescue the flight attendants but even after getting injured, she said that the crew did not leave the plane until after the passengers evacuated. She said she was the last one to go.

South Korea's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said the 291 passengers included 141 Chinese, 77 South Koreans, 64 Americans, three Canadians, three Indians, one Japanese, one Vietnamese and one person from France.

The two dead passengers have been identified as students from China —16 and 17 years old — who were scheduled to attend summer camp in California with dozens of classmates. Hospital officials said Sunday that two of the people who remained hospitalized in critical condition were paralyzed with spinal injuries, while another two showed "road rash" injuries consistent with being dragged.

Foucrault, the coroner, said one of the 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. Foucrault said an autopsy he expects to be completed by Monday will involve determining whether the second girl's death was caused by injuries suffered in the crash or "a secondary incident."

He said he did not get a close enough look at the victims on Saturday to know whether they had external injuries.

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

On audio recordings from the air traffic tower, controllers told all pilots in other planes to stay put after the crash. "All runways are closed. Airport is closed. San Francisco tower," said one controller.

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