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Pilot was attempting his first Boeing 777 landing at San Francisco airport, airline says, while NTSB investigates death

Asiana Airlines said Monday that the pilot in control of a Boeing 777 that crashed at San Francisco International Airport Saturday had little experience flying it and was landing one for the first time at that airport, while the city's fire chief said there is a "possibility" that one of two passengers killed was run over by a rescue vehicle rushing to aid victims.

San Francisco Fire Department Chief Joanne Hayes-White said there "might be a possibility," that a fire rescue apparatus came in contact with one of the passengers, but the alleged incident is still under thorough investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said a preliminary review of airport surveillance video "wasn't conclusive."

The FBI and San Francisco Police Department were notified of the alleged incident and an investigation began after the plane crash scene was locked down and the aircraft was secure, San Francisco Fire Department Airport Deputy Chief Dale Carnes said during a press conference Monday.

"One of the deceased did have injuries consistent with those of having been run over by a vehicle," San Francisco Fire Department Spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said Sunday.

The crash killed two people and injured at least 182. The plane, traveling from South Korea, slammed into the runway on Saturday morning, breaking off its tail and catching fire before slumping to a stop that allowed some passengers to flee down emergency slides into thick smoke and a trail of debris. Firefighters doused the flames that burned through the fuselage with foam and water, and police officers on the ground threw utility knives up to crew members so they could cut the seat belts of those who remained trapped as rescue crews removed the injured.

The two victims killed in the crash were Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia, both 16-year-old Chinese students.

San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said one of their bodies was found on the tarmac near where the plane's tail broke off. 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. Foucrault said an autopsy will involve determining whether the second girl's death was caused by injuries suffered in the crash or "a secondary incident," and a report won't be available for two to three weeks.

Earlier Monday, Asiana spokeswoman Lee Hyomin told the Associated Press that pilot Lee Gang-guk was trying to get used to the 777 during Saturday's crash landing. She said the pilot had nearly 10,000 hours flying other planes, including the Boeing 747, but had only 43 hours on the 777.

Hyomin told Reuters that co-pilot Lee Jeong-min has 3,220 hours of flying experience with the Boeing 777 and a total of 12,387 hours of flying experience, and was helping his colleague with the landing. 

In all, four pilots were on the plane and worked in rotating shifts during the 10-and-a-half hour flight from Seoul. The pilots were described by Asiana chief executive Yoon Young-doo as veterans, with more than 10,000 hours of flight experience.

Hersman said the NTSB will look into whether or not Gang-guk's 43 hours spent flying Boeing 777's had a role in the crash landing.

“You want to make sure they can do it safely every time, and safely the first time,” she told Fox News. 

The NTSB is interviewing all four pilots and Hersman said investigators are looking into the activities of the pilots in the 72 hours leading up to the crash to see if fatigue or medications were a factor.

"A lot is focused on the crew’s experience, their training, how they worked together, crew resource management, the way that they communicate and how they divvy up their responsibilities. We’re looking into all of those things right now,"  Hersman told Fox News. 

The South Korea government also announced Monday that officials will also inspect engines and landing equipment on all Boeing 777 planes owned by Asiana and Korean Air, the national carrier. 

Some of the passengers who were onboard the plane have already gone home, airlines officials told the Los Angeles Times. Asiana Airlines said two people flew home Sunday and four on Monday. Six government officials and a dozen relatives of the passengers are being flown in from Shanghai.

A preliminary review of recordings taken from the black boxes on the plane showed that during its landing attempt the plane was traveling “significantly” slower than normal before it crashed, according to Hersman.

Hersman said Sunday that the flight crew on Asiana Airlines Flight 214 had a visible approach to the runway and put the plane’s landing gear down, according to communications heard in the cockpit voice recorder.

Hersman added that the plane’s target speed for the landing was 137 knots (158 mph) and the crew had no discussion of anomalies or concerns with the way the plane was descending.  

But seven seconds before the plane hit into a seawall, one of the crew members called on the pilots to increase speed. Information from the flight data recorder displayed that the plane was going well below the target landing speed, and the engine throttles advanced.

Four seconds before impact, a “stick shaker” – a device that emits an oral and physical warning to the crew that the plane is about to stall – sounded off, Hersman said. Around that time, the plane was traveling at 103 knots (119mph).

The crew then called to abort the landing and to try another attempt 1.5 seconds before impact.

Hersman said there were no reports of wind conditions or weather playing a role in the crash landing, but investigators will look into data from prior flights that landed in the area.

The black box recordings were taken from the plane wreckage and analyzed at a lab in Washington D.C. 

Authorities are also looking into what role the shutdown of key pilot navigational aid had in the crash. 

Hersman said on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday that the glide slope system is a ground-based aid that helps pilots stay on course while landing and it has been shut down at the San Francisco airport since June. The pilots, however, were notified before the crash that the system wasn't available.

Aircraft security experts told Reuters that the glide slope system is not essential for routine landings, but it's not unusual for airports to disable them for maintenance reasons. 

"The pilots would have had to rely solely on visual cues to fly the proper glide path to the runway, and not have had available to them the electronic information that they typically have even in good weather at most major airports," said Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who crash landed a plane in New York's Hudson River in 2009, told a CBS news affiliate, according to Reuters.

"What that means is that then the automatic warnings that would occur in the cockpit when you deviate below the desired electronic path wouldn't have been available either. So we don't know yet if that's a factor in this particular situation, but that's certainly something they'll be looking at," he said.

San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee said at a news conference Saturday evening that all 291 passengers and 16 crew members onboard the plane had been accounted for, but officials said 182 people were taken to area hospitals. As of Sunday afternoon, 19 people remained hospitalized with six in critical condition, one being a child.

Dr. Margaret Knudson of the San Francisco General Hospital said among the 53 people they have treated, they have seen large numbers of abdominal injuries, some spinal fractures -- with a few causing paralysis -- and patients with head trauma.

She also said they were "surprised" to see a few patients with severe road rash, comparing it as when someone crashes on a motorcycle without wearing leather.

“There’s going to be many, many more surgeries to come,” she added.

Joanne Hayes-White, the San Francisco Fire Department chief, said Sunday that it was "nothing short of a miracle that we had 123 people walk away from this." Hayes-White said there was major structural damage inside the plane, as some seats were buckled.

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.

At one point, the pilot of a United Airlines plane radioed.

"We see people ... that need immediate attention," the pilot said. "They are alive and walking around."

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. He stood up and saw sparking — perhaps from exposed electrical wires — and a gaping hole through the back of the plane where its galley was torn away along with the tail.

Xu and his family escaped through the opening. Once on the tarmac, they watched the plane catch fire, and firefighters hose it down.

SUMMARY

  • 2 dead in plane crash
  • 182 people immediately taken to hospitals, 49 seriously injured
  • 16 still in hospitals, with 6 in critical condition
  • 132 people treated at a triage
  • 123 people found in the terminal uninjured

 

The flight originated in Shanghai, China, and stopped over in Seoul, South Korea, before coming to San Francisco, airport officials said. South Korea's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said that 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. Thirty of the passengers were children.

President Obama, who was at Camp David in Maryland, was informed of the crash and was being kept up to date by local, state and federal authorities, the White House said.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye offered her condolences to the families of passengers and said her government would make all necessary efforts to help handle the aftermath, according to her spokeswoman Kim Haing.

"I offer my deep condolences to the families of the passengers who suffered from the unexpected Asiana plane crash," South Korean President Park Geun-hye said, according to her spokeswoman Kim Haing. Park said that the South Korean government will make all necessary efforts to help handle the aftermath, according to Kim.

Asiana is a South Korean airline, second in size to Korean Air. It has recently tried to expand its presence in the United States, and is a member of the Star Alliance, which is anchored in the U.S. by United Airlines.

The 777-200 is a long-range plane from Boeing. The twin-engine aircraft is one of the world's most popular long-distance planes, often used for flights of 12 hours or more, from one continent to another. It is a smaller, wide-body jet that can travel long distances without refueling and is typically used for long flights over water. The airline's website says its 777s can carry between 246 to 300 passengers.

A tweet from Boeing said the company's thoughts are with those affected by the crash. “Our thoughts are with everyone affected by today’s incident at SFO,” Boeing said on its Twitter account. “We stand ready to assist the NTSB.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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