It was only seconds before Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crashed at San Francisco International Airport that pilots made any indication that something was going wrong with the landing, according to information released today from the National Transportation Safety Board.
NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said at her final news briefing this afternoon before she heads back to agency headquarters in Washington, D.C., that not until the plane was 500 feet from landing did the pilots make comments related to the speed of the plane.
Based on pilot interviews over the past days and data from the cockpit voice recorder, investigators have discovered that during the final minutes before approaching San Francisco International Airport crewmembers started talking about being in the incorrect position for landing and tried to readjust.
About 35 seconds before landing and about 500 feet up, a crewmember said everything for landing was set.
The same call was made at 18 seconds at about 200 feet.
Then at nine seconds before impact, a crewmember made the first comment regarding speed.
At three seconds before landing, a pilot made a call for a “go-around,” or an aborted landing, and asked to attempt re-landing the airplane.
There was a second call by a different pilot for a go-around 1.5 seconds before landing, Hersman said.
The plane was traveling well below the target speed of 137 knots during the approach, and was in too low of a position for landing, Hersman said.
According to flight data, Hersman said the engine and flight controls were responding as expected.
“There is no anomalous behavior” of automated features of the plane, Hersman said, which includes the autopilot, auto-throttles and other controls.
Hersman also addressed a comment the flying pilot made about seeing a blinding light as the plane started its descent into SFO.
The pilot told investigators in a follow-up interview that at about 500 feet he observed a bright point of light that he thought could have been a reflection of the sun.
He said the light came in straight in front of the plane and not from the runway and caused him to briefly look away but he did not think it affected his vision because he could see the flight control instruments.
The other two pilots in the cockpit did not mention the light in their interviews and in the cockpit voice recorder there is no discussion among the pilots about seeing a light, Hersman said.
She said investigators would look at the relative position of sun at the time of landing.
While a majority of the wreckage was removed or moved off the runway today, the burned fuselage of the Boeing 777 and pieces of the tail, cabin and other debris remained at the crash site.
Hersman said investigators allowed three buses of survivors and their families to visit the site Wednesday evening if they wanted to see the area.
Two girls were killed in the crash. Their families arrived in the Bay Area Monday night.
The girls killed have been identified as Ye Meng Yuan and Wang Lin Jia, friends on their way to a three-week Southern California summer program with dozens of other teens from their school in the Zhejiang province in eastern China.
A team has been sifting through the charred remains in the cabin trying to recover personal items to return to victims, Hersman said.
A complete report of the investigation is expected to be released between 12 and 18 months, however Hersman said this is a priority case for the agency and she hopes to release findings by the one-year mark.
The federal agency will work to determine probable cause and issue safety recommendations.
In the days since the crash, investigators have accumulated “mountains of information” and more continues to be analyzed, Herman said.
“This is just the tip of iceberg,” she said. “There’s a lot more we have to review.”
Sasha Lekach, Bay City News