The pilot in control of the Boeing 777 that crashed in San Francisco had little experience flying that type of plane and was landing one for the first time at that airport, his managers have revealed.
Asiana Airlines spokeswoman Lee Hyomin said 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 but had only 43 hours on the 777.
Accident investigators are trying to determine whether pilot error, mechanical problems or something else was to blame for the crash.
The head of the US National Transportation Safety Board said earlier that the pilots of the doomed Flight 214 were flying too slowly as they approached the airport and tried to abort the landing, but crashed barely a second later.
Investigators also believe rescue crews could have run over one of the two teenagers killed in the crash.
Chinese state media identified the dead as two 16-year-old girls, Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia, from the country’s eastern Zhejiang province.
San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said senior San Francisco Fire Department officials notified him and his staff at the crash site on Saturday that one of the girls may have been struck on the runaway.
Mr Foucrault said a post-mortem examination he expects to be completed by today will involve determining whether the girl’s death was caused by injuries suffered in the crash or “a secondary incident”.
He 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 jet came to rest after it skidded down the runway.
US safety experts said the Boeing 777’s pilots triggered a control board warning that the jet could stall, then tried to abort the landing seconds before crashing.
The plane was travelling well below the target landing speed of 137 knots per hour, or 157mph, National Transportation Safety Board chief Deborah Hersman said at a briefing on the crash.
“We’re not talking about a few knots,” she said.
Ms Hersman said the aircraft’s stick shaker – a piece of safety equipment that warns pilots of an impending stall – went off moments before the crash. The normal response to a stall warning is to increase speed to recover control.
There was an increase several seconds before the crash, 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.
At 1.5 seconds before impact, there was a call for an aborted landing, she said.
The new details helped shed light on the final moments of Flight 214 as the crew tried desperately to climb back into the sky, and confirmed what survivors and other witnesses said they saw: a slow-moving airliner.
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.
The plane’s Pratt & Whitney engines were on idle, Ms 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 in altitude, Mr 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.
Among the questions investigators are trying to answer was what, if any, role the deactivation of a ground-based landing guidance system played in the crash. Such systems help pilots land, especially at airports like San Francisco where fog can make landing challenging.
Altogether, 305 of the 307 people aboard made it out alive in what survivors and rescuers described as nothing less than astonishing after a frightful scene of fire burning inside the fuselage, pieces of the aircraft scattered across the runway and people fleeing for their lives.
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 travellers 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.
As the plane approached the runway under clear skies – a luxury at an airport and city known for intense fog – people in nearby communities could see the aircraft was flying low and swaying erratically from side to side.
On board, Fei Xiong, from China, was travelling to California so she could take her eight-year-old son to Disneyland. The pair was sitting in the back half of the plane. Ms Fei 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’.”