Asiana Flight 214: Slow landing speed probed in San Francisco plane crash (updated)

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UPDATE 12:27 p.m.: Surveillance video reviewed in passenger's death

Federal investigators say they have reviewed airport surveillance video to determine whether an emergency vehicle ran over one of the victims of the plane crash at San Francisco International Airport but have not been able to reach any conclusions.

National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman Deborah Hersman on Monday called the possibility that a teenage girl was run over a "very serious issue." She said investigators want to make sure they have all the facts before reaching any conclusions.

Hersman said the coroner has not yet determined the girl's cause of death.

San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White and Assistant Deputy Chief Dale Carnes both said earlier Monday that one of the two teenage girls killed in the crash may have been struck by an emergency vehicle.

UPDATE 9:53 a.m.: Slow landing speed probed

Investigators have determined that Asiana Airlines Flight 214 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. What they don't yet know is whether the pilot's inexperience with the type of aircraft and at San Francisco's airport played a role.

A day after the jetliner crash landed in San Francisco, killing two people and sending more than 180 to hospitals, officials said Sunday that the probe was also focusing on whether the airport or plane's equipment also could have malfunctioned.

RELATED: SFV church says surviving students will return to China

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

Remarkably, 305 of 307 passengers and crew survived the crash and more than a third didn't even require hospitalization. Only a small number were critically injured.

Investigators said that the weather was unusually fair for foggy San Francisco. The winds were mild, too. During the descent, with their throttles set to idle, the pilots never discussed having any problems with the plane or its positioning until it was too late.

Seven seconds before the Boeing 777 struck down, a member of the flight crew made a call to increase the jet's lagging speed, National Transportation Safety Board chief Deborah Hersman said at a briefing based on the plane's cockpit and flight data recorders. Three seconds later came a warning that the plane was about to stall.

Two-and-a-half seconds later, the crew attempted to abort the landing and go back up for another try. The air traffic controller guiding the plane heard the crash that followed almost instantly, Hersman said.

Federal and local authorities plan to release more information Monday morning about the investigation and the initial response.

While investigators from both the U.S. and South Korea are in the early stages of an investigation that will include a weekslong examination of the wreckage and alcohol tests for the crew, the news confirmed what survivors and other witnesses had reported: a slow-moving airliner flying low to the ground.

"We are not talking about a few knots" difference between the aircraft's target landing speed of 137 knots, or 157 mph (250 kph), and how fast it was going as it came in for a landing, Hersman said.

Pilots normally try to land at the target speed, in this case 137 knots, plus an additional 5 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 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, who was at the controls, had nearly 10,000 hours flying other planes but only 43 in the 777, a plane she said he still was getting used to flying. Another pilot on the flight, Lee Jeong-min, had about 12,390 hours of flying experience, including 3,220 hours on the 777, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport in South Korea. Lee was the deputy pilot, tasked with helping Lee Gang-guk get accustomed to the 777, according to Asiana Airlines.

Two other pilots were aboard, with teams 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 have 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.

UPDATE 9:11 a.m.: Coroner says plane crash victim may have been run over

A county coroner said his office is conducting an autopsy to determine whether one of the teenage victims of the Asiana Airlines crash at San Francisco International Airport was run over and killed by an emergency vehicle.

San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said Sunday that senior San Francisco Fire Department officials notified him and his staff at the crash site Saturday that one of the two Chinese girls killed in the crash might have been struck on the runway.

"We were made aware of the possibility at the scene that day," Foucrault said, adding that he did not get a thorough look at the victims on Saturday to know if they had external injuries.

One of the bodies was found on the runway near where the plane's tail broke off upon impact, he said. The other was found on the left side of the aircraft about 30 feet away from where the Boeing 777 came to rest after it skidded down the tarmac and not far from an emergency slide.

San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White did not return telephone calls from The Associated Press. Earlier Sunday, Hayes-White had said she did not know if the two dead girls were alive when her crews arrived on scene.

But she told the San Francisco Chronicle that the girl found on the side of the airplane had injuries consistent with 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," she told The Chronicle. "That could have been something that happened in the chaos. It will be part of our investigation."

Foucrault said the autopsy, which he expects to be completed by Monday, will involve determining whether the girl's death was caused by injuries from the crash or "a secondary incident."

The teenagers' families are expected to arrive in San Francisco on Monday, and they will receive the autopsy results before they are made public, he said.

The coroner said both girls were pronounced dead at the airport.

Chinese state media and Asiana Airlines have identified the girls as Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia, students at Jiangshan Middle School in Zhejiang, an affluent coastal province in eastern China. They were part of a group of 29 students and five teachers from the school who were heading to summer camps in California, according to education authorities in China.

The group had been scheduled to arrive at the West Valley Christian Church's school in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley on Monday after spending the weekend touring the San Francisco Bay Area, school administrator Derek Swales said.

The high school and middle school students would have been taught English and American culture in the mornings and would have toured local universities and gone sightseeing in the afternoons. Organizers of the camp had lined up host homes for the Chinese teens, Swales said.

Swales said a charter bus was heading north to pick up the teens when the crash landing occurred. He said the camp was postponed and the students will go back to their families.

Some church members have begun donating money, and church leaders were trying to figure out how to contribute to the families devastated by the crash.

"We want people to know that we care even though we have not met them," the Rev. Glenn Kirby said.

While speaking to reporters at San Francisco General Hospital on Sunday, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee called the questions being raised about a rescue vehicle possibly striking one of the victims "unsubstantiated."

"It was very, very hectic when they arrived minutes after the plane came to rest and there was smoke coming out, and people were trying to get out as quickly as they could," Lee said.

This story has been updated.

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