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Official probes if rescuers ran over plane crash victim

Asiana: Pilot was landing at SFO for the first time in a 777

By Jason Dearen & Joan Lowy

LAST UPDATED: 05:52 p.m. HST, Jul 07, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO >> Pilots of Asiana Flight 214 were flying too slowly as they approached San Francisco airport, triggering a cockpit warning that the jetliner could stall, and they tried to abort the landing but crashed barely a second later, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board said today.

While federal investigators began piecing together what led to the crash, San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault disclosed that he was looking into the possibility that one of the two teenage passengers who died Saturday actually survived the crash but was run over by a rescue vehicle rushing to aid victims as the plane burst into flames. Remarkably, 305 of 307 passengers survived the crash and more than a third didn't even require hospitalization. Only a small number were critically injured.

Accident investigators are trying to determine whether pilot error, mechanical problems or something else was to blame for the crash. At a news conference, NTSB chief Deborah Hersman disclosed the Boeing 777 was traveling at speeds well below the target landing speed of 137 knots per hour, or 157 mph.

"We're not talking about a few knots," she said.

Hersman described the frantic final seconds of the flight as the pilots struggled to avoid crashing.

Seven seconds before the crash, pilots recognized the need to increase speed, she said, basing her comments on an evaluation of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders that contain hundreds of different types of information on what happened to the plane. Three seconds later, the aircraft's stick shaker — a piece of safety equipment that warns pilots of an impending stall — went off. The normal response to a stall warning is to boost speed and Hersman said the throttles were fired and the engines appeared to respond normally.

At 1.5 seconds before impact, there was a call from the crew to abort the landing.

The details confirmed what survivors and other witnesses said they saw: an aircraft that seemed to be flying too slowly just before its tail apparently clipped a seawall at the end of the runway and the nose slammed down.

Pilots normally try to land at the target speed, in this case 137 knots, plus an additional five more knots, said Bob Coffman, an American Airlines captain who has flown 777s. He said the briefing raises an important question: "Why was the plane going so slow?"

The plane's Pratt & Whitney engines were on idle, Hersman said. The normal procedure in the Boeing 777, a wide-body jet, would be to use the autopilot and the throttle to provide power to the engine all the way through to landing, Coffman said.

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

The airline said Monday in Seoul that the pilot at the controls had little experience flying that type of plane and was landing one for the first time at that airport.

Asiana spokeswoman Lee Hyomin said that Lee Gang-guk was trying to get used to the 777 during Saturday's crash landing. She says the pilot had nearly 10,000 hours flying other planes but had only 43 hours on the 777.

Among the questions investigators are trying to answer was what, if any, role the deactivation of a ground-based landing guidance system due to airport construction played in the crash. Such systems help pilots land, especially at airports like San Francisco where fog can make landing challenging. The conditions Saturday were nearly perfect, with sunny skies and light winds.

The flight originated in Shanghai, China, stopped over in Seoul, South Korea, before making the nearly 11-hour trip to San Francisco. The South Korea-based airline said four South Korean pilots were on board, three of whom were described as "skilled."

Among the travelers were citizens of China, South Korean, the United States, Canada, India, Japan, Vietnam and France. There were at least 70 Chinese students and teachers heading to summer camps, according to Chinese authorities.

Fei Xiong, a Chinese passenger , was traveling to California so she could take her 8-year-old son to Disneyland. The pair was sitting in the back half of the plane. Xiong said her son sensed something was wrong.

"My son told me: 'The plane will fall down, it's too close to the sea,'" she said. "I told him: 'Baby, it's OK, we'll be fine.'"

When the plane hit the ground, oxygen masks dropped down, said Xu Da, a product manager at an Internet company in Hangzhou, China, who was sitting with his wife and teenage son near the back of the plane. When he stood up, he said he could see sparking — perhaps from exposed electrical wires.

He turned and could see the tail where the galley was torn away, leaving a gaping hole through which they could see the runway. Once on the tarmac, they watched the plane catch fire, and firefighters hose it down.

"I just feel lucky," said Xu, whose family suffered some cuts and have neck and back pain.

In the chaotic moments after the landing, when baggage was tumbling from the overhead bins onto passengers and people all around her were screaming, Wen Zhang grabbed her 4-year-old son, who hit the seat in front of him and broke his leg.

Spotting a hole at the back of the jumbo jet where the bathroom had been, she carried her boy to safety.

"I had no time to be scared," she said.

Authorities immediately closed the airport and rescuers rushed to the scene. A United Airlines pilot radioed the control tower, saying: "We see people ... that need immediate attention. They are alive and walking around."

"Think you said people are just walking outside the airplane right now?" the controller replied.

"Yes," answered the pilot of United Flight 885. "Some people, it looks like, are struggling."

At the crash scene, police officers knives up to crew members inside the burning wreckage so they could cut away passengers' seat belts. Passengers jumped down emergency slides, escaping from billowing smoke that rose high above the bay. Some passengers who escaped doused themselves with water from the bay, presumably to cool burns, authorities said.

By the time the flames were out, much of the top of the fuselage had burned away. The tail section was gone, with pieces of it scattered across the beginning of the runway.

Foucrault, the coroner, said senior San Francisco Fire Department officials notified him and his staff at the crash site on Saturday that one of the 16-year-olds who was kilkled may have been struck on the runaway. Foucrault said an autopsy he expects to be completed by Monday will involve determining whether the 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.

Foucrault 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 away from where the jetliner came to rest after it skidded down the runway.


Lowy reported from Washington, D.C. Associated Press writers Terry Collins, Terry Chea and Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco, David Koenig in Dallas and Louise Watt in Beijing contributed to this report.

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cojef wrote:
My original post indicated that the 777 approach was at lower level than the protocol for FFO. Flight crew did not have benefit of the glide path assist electronics that was turned off temporarily by the airport tower due to ground repairs around the landing area. The debris field clearly indicated that the plane's landing gear missed the target area and banged into the jetty, instead past the cheveron markers where all planes must hit to make a safe landing. The angle of attack as ground witnesses reported was at steeper angle, meaning the aircraft was preparing to abort the landing and adding power to enable a go-around. The steeper angle caused the tail section to break off.
on July 7,2013 | 12:23PM
serious wrote:
The glide slope was not turned off temporally-- it was in the NOTAMS just like the Korean Air 747 that crashed in Guam they don't know how to fly hands on!!!
on July 7,2013 | 03:11PM
Surfer_Dude wrote:
Correct. The glide slope was off. The VASI's were off. It was in the NOTAMS. It was a VFR day. Light wind. BAD COCKPIT CREW. ps......this Boeing 777 saved lives. Are you listening HAWAIIAN.
on July 7,2013 | 03:29PM
Kealii wrote:
I think it was you who was not listening. Hawaiian always said that Boeing was their first choice but they were not able to meet Hawaiian's demands because of the backlog of orders at Boeing. Airbus was their only choice if they wanted new planes NOW.
on July 7,2013 | 04:11PM
kaupani wrote:
Great, sacrifice lives for profit. If the Boeing is a safer plane, Hawaiian should be willing to wait.
on July 7,2013 | 08:35PM
Kealii wrote:
I know, Hawaiian's safety record is just plain atrocious and we shouldn't trust them with these horrible Airbus aircraft. Get a grip and a life! People are more apt to get run over by ignorant and incompetent drivers like you than die in an airplane crash. Besides, when you look at the history of Boeing or Airbus crashes for the past 10 years, the vast majority does NOT occur because of a manufacturing defect. Instead, it's usually pilot error, weather conditions, poor maintenance, etc. Given your poor grasp of reality you can go ahead and choose an airline that flies only Boeing aircraft, regardless of their safety record. But I'll choose to fly an airline with an impeccable safety record such as Hawaiian. Sorry, the stats won't be in your favor.
on July 8,2013 | 12:01AM
CriticalReader wrote:
It was a bummer. But, I bet money that across the US yesterday, there were multiple car accidents that led to multiple deaths. Many died yesterday under tragic circumstances in hospitals, at home, at work, or at sea. There were, no doubt, shooting deaths, stabbing deaths, and deaths due to other forms of criminal assault Look at all the microphones in the frozen video image below. What is wrong with us?????
on July 7,2013 | 12:26PM
localguy wrote:
Deactivation of a ground-based landing guidance system played no part in this accident. You can tell how incompetent reporters are when they keep bring this up, trying to fill air time when they have nothing of value to talk or write about. SFO posted this on the FAA website as required. It would also have been available to the pilots as Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) they are required to check during flight planning. Also, other Asiana and other pilots had no problems, made no issues. Only these two incompetent pilots who willfully failed in their job to provide a professional and safe flight. When the investigation is over, they should be held accountable under applicable law. Asiana is going to pay big time for all medical claims.
on July 7,2013 | 03:27PM
pridon wrote:
As a recall, the Guam crash faulted the co-pilot for failing to inform the pilot of the faulty approach. It was deemda cultural thing not to criticize or correct a superior. I believe it was the co-pilot responsibility to call out ir speed or altitude deviations. It seems that he didn't - likely for the reasons above. Even without VASI, there are visual cues that a pilot uses on approach to determine if he is low or high. If the touchdown point is moving away from you, tou are low, if its moving toward you you are high. I'm a pilot, works every time.
on July 7,2013 | 07:35PM
mitt_grund wrote:
Built-in cultural deference to a senior person is a possibility as both pilots were Korean. If the co-pilot were the junior to the pilot, no matter his greater experience with the 777, he would have been reluctant to correct or give his opinion that the approach was too low or too slow. It would have been an affront or a loss of face to his senior for the co-pilot to have done so. If that was the case, he would have been able to give only a silent "wing and a prayer". An American-born co-pilot might have been ruder and quick too correct his senior, and then two Chinese teen-age girls might still be alive today because of that. Given the inexperience of the pilot, he might have well benefited from the guidance system being on. More likely to listen to an electronic device than to his junior officer. The cockpit recording should answer the question of whether the co-pilot met his duty to the passengers or deferred to the pilot.
on July 8,2013 | 05:26AM
Skyler wrote:
Looks like a lot of things came into play here - inexperience, for one.
on July 7,2013 | 08:32PM
engineersoldier wrote:
We in America dive right into whether a first responder may have erred and caused one of the deaths. In many other countries, they would have swept such doubts under the rug. Recall what the Chinese did to destroy all evidence after the high speed train wreck. This is one of the things that makes us a great nation.
on July 7,2013 | 08:55PM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
What a terrible thing if one of the dead passenger survived the crash but only to be runned over by the airport fire department rescue vehicle...I guess the NTSB will determine that when they conduct the investigation.....
on July 8,2013 | 01:21AM
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