SFO crash-landing: Early data indicates plane's approach was too slow (Photos)

A NTSB investigator photographs the tail of the 777 Boeing airliner that crashed Saturday at San Francisco International Airport.
A NTSB investigator photographs the tail of the 777 Boeing airliner that crashed Saturday at San Francisco International Airport.
Courtesy NTSB

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An investigation has begun intothe crash-landing of a South Korean airliner Saturday at San Francisco's airport, which left two passengers dead and dozens more injured. An NTSB spokesperson said in a Sunday press conference that data from the cockpit voice recorder indicate the 777 Asiana airliner was approaching the runway significantly below its target speed. 

Update 5:17 p.m.: LAX still experiencing cancellations, delays

LAX continues to experience cancellations and delays due to the crash at San Francisco International Airport. In a statement, the airport says one-third of flights between LAX and SFO have been cancelled. 

"At the end of a four-day holiday weekend and in the summer peak travel period, motorists should expect significant traffic congestion on airport roadways between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. tonight." 

If you'll be heading to LAX this evening, you want to check your flight's status online beforehand.

Update 4:17 p.m.: Coroner investigating whether victim was killed by fire rig

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the San Mateo County coroner is investigating whether one of the two students killed in a plane crash at SFO was hit by a fire vehicle as it rushed to assist the plane. 

The newspaper reports: 

San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said Sunday her injuries are consistent with her having been run over.

"As it possibly could have happened, based on the injuries sustained, it could have been one of our vehicles that added to the injuries, or another vehicle," Hayes-White said. "That could have been something that happened in the chaos. It will be part of our investigation."

Update 2:25 p.m.: Early data indicates plane's approach was too slow

At a press conference Sunday, NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said that data from the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder indicate the 777 Asiana airliner was approaching the runway significantly below its target speed, just seconds before it made impact with a seawall. 

"I will tell you that the [airliner's] speed was significantly below [its target], and we're not talking about a few knots," Hersman said. 

Hersman said the flight data recorder indicated that the plane's throttles were advanced a few seconds prior to impact. The cockpit voice recorder confirmed that a call was made to increase speed seven seconds prior to impact. A call for pilots to initiate a "go-around" occurs 1.5 seconds before the plane crashed, she said. Hersman later explained that would be a maneuver to abort the landing and try again.

SFO Airport Director John Martin addressed concerns that the airport's out-of-service glide slope mechanism may have played a role in the crash. The mechanism assists pilots stay on course while landing. Martin said pilots have a number of tools available to them to assist with landing. "All of the systems that were required were operable" during the plane's landing, he said.

Hersman cautioned that the investigation was still in its early stages. She called for eyewitness video from the public to help in their investigation. Videos can be submitted on their website, or by emailing eyewitnessreport@ntsb.gov

"It is too early to rule anything out," she said.

Watch the full video of the press conference below: 

Update 11:33 a.m.: SF General Hospital surgeon: Triage saved lives 

A surgeon at San Francisco General Hospital told reporters Sunday that the triage performed minutes after the crash saved several lives. 

Surgeon Dr. Margaret Knudson said the hospital is continuing to treat six of the 53 patients it admitted following the crash for injuries including spinal fractures and severe road rash that appeared "as if they'd been dragged." 

Hospital spokeswoman Rachael Kagan said six of those patients remained in critical condition. At least two are paralyzed from their injuries. There were no remaining burn injuries, she said. 

Dr. Knudson said the victims that were able to speak all reported being at the back of the plane.

Update 10:15 a.m.: NTSB eyes shutdown of landing tool's role in crash 

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman told CBS  that NTSB were looking into the deactivation of a tool that helps guide pilots to landing as a possible factor in Saturday's crash. The glide slope — a ground-based aid that helps pilots stay on course while landing — had been shut down in the 777 since June.

Hersman says pilots were sent a notice warning that the glide slope wasn't available. Watch CBS's interview here: 

Update 9:30 a.m.: 2 Chinese students who died on airliner were heading to West Hills summer school

Asiana and government officials have identified students Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia as the two girls killed Saturday.

The two had been part of a group of 35 middle and high school Chinese students that were heading to West Valley Christian School in West Hills, according to school administrator Derek Swales. The school had been planning to host the students for a three-week study abroad program. It's unclear if they'll stay or return home after the tragedy.

"It's a great loss. We are very sad to be so close to this situation. These are amazing students who are very gifted and come from very committed families who want to give them this great opportunity." Swales told KPCC.

In a message posted on their website, the school says they're collecting donations for the students. If they do end up staying for the summer, they'll likely be coming without all of their luggage, and could use the community's help. 

During Sunday services at the West Valley Christian Church, members offered their prayers for the students.

West Valley Christian Schools administrator Derek Swales said the church has been hosting students from China and Korea for more than a decade and he was deeply saddened to see such a tragedy befall the program.

"We love the international community and we would welcome them and we really want to make an expression of we care deeply for their loss."

One churchgoer who was particularly moved was Bobbie Candler Buyalos. She'll be hosting a Korean student later this summer and she teared up when she heard the news.

"I have three children and it just struck me as a mom to think about sending my children off on what was supposed to be a pleasurable trip and to have something like that happen," she said.

The church will be holding a special prayer service for the crash victims this Thursday night. 

RELATED2 dead, dozens injured, in SFO airliner crash; all passengers accounted for

Cancellations, delays at LAX

The crash caused a brief shutdown of SFO and caused cancellations and delays in SF-bound flights in airports across the U.S. The crush comes during the busy July Fourth post-holiday weekend. NBCLA reports that 34 of the 103 SF-bound flights at LAX were canceled Sunday and officials expected more. The airport is advising travelers to check their real-time flight schedule before heading to LAX.

All 307 passengers accounted for; 2 Chinese students killed

The Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 had begun its trip in Shanghai, adding more passengers in South Korea, reports China's Xinhua news agency, which says 141 Chinese citizens were on the flight to San Francisco International Airport.

As it came in for landing before noon Saturday, the plane's tail section snapped off after it struck the ground short of the runway, according to multiple witness accounts. The jetliner then twisted and slid down the tarmac. After the plane's inflatable emergency escape ramps deployed, many passengers slid to safety.

As it sat on the runway, the aircraft sent billows of smoke into the sky. Images taken later showed a large portion of the 777's roof had burned away.

"Based on numbers provided by the San Francisco Fire Dept. and regional hospital officials, two people died and 182 others were taken to hospitals," the local CBS News affiliate reports, "including 49 who were seriously injured, ten of them critically including two small children."

All 307 people aboard the plane have now been accounted for, officials say, and investigators began their work on the scene before midnight Saturday. The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration each say that they're sending investigators to San Francisco.

The incident triggered delays and rerouting of dozens of other flights, as jets were sent to airports in Oakland, Los Angeles, and elsewhere to absorb the flow of travelers. As of early Sunday, two runways at the airport remain closed, reports the local ABC 7 News.

One person who saw the plane from the ground was Stephanie Turner, a visitor to California who was taking a photo of the runway when saw the Asiana 777 descending.

"And then I noticed that the tail was very, very low. The angle was bad. And so as it came in, the tail of the plane struck first," she told NPR Saturday.

Among the passengers was Samsung executive David Eun, who tweeted "I just crash landed at SFO. Tail ripped off. Most everyone seems fine. I'm ok. Surreal..." Eun also posted a photo of the jet.

With all those aboard accounted for, transportation officials are now turning their focus to finding the cause of the disastrous landing, the first time a Boeing 777 has been involved in a crash with fatalities in its 18 years of service, ABC reports.

The chief executive of Asiana Airlines says that the flight's pilots were well-trained and had thousands of hours of experience. He also said there were no issues with the plane.

"For now, we acknowledge that there were no problems caused by the 777-200 plane or (its) engines," airline president and CEO Yoon Young-doo said at a news conference Sunday, Reuters reports.

The news agency also reports that parts of the San Francisco airport's landing systems, designed to help pilots make perfect descents onto runways, had been turned off on the runway that was the scene of Saturday's crash-landing.

The system is seen as an aid to pilots, rather than an essential guide — particularly during clear conditions such as those reported Saturday.

Saturday, officials from the FBI said that they saw no signs that the crash-landing was related to terrorism.

This story has been updated.