As the investigation into the deadly Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash continues, details today emerged about the evacuation and the orders pilots gave the flight attendants in the moments after landing.
The National Transportation Safety Board is the agency heading the investigation into the crash and this afternoon chairman Deborah Hersman said based on interviews with the four pilots and six of 12 flight attendants, passengers were told to stay seated.
Six flight attendants have been interviewed and have all relayed similar accounts of two points of impact before the plane came to rest, Hersman said.
The other six flight attendants remain hospitalized today. The most serious injuries occurred in the back of the plane where four flight attendants were posted. Three of those four were ejected from the aircraft during the landing.
After the plane stopped, the lead flight attendant asked the flight crew if they should evacuate and the pilots said not to initiate an evacuation.
The cabin manager then made an announcement over the PA system for people to stay in their seats and not evacuate, Hersman said.
Around the same time, a flight attendant at the front of the economy cabin said he saw fire outside the cabin and sent a co-attendant to the front to share the information, and that is when evacuation procedures began, Hersman said.
About 90 seconds after the plane stopped, the eight doors and eight slides deployed.
However, there were some issues with the inflation of the slides.
One of the flight attendants in the economy cabin was pinned underneath an inflatable slide that deployed inside the aircraft, and she suffered a broken leg.
Another flight attendant in business class was also pinned by the slide that deployed inside, Hersman said.
Hersman said investigators are working with the manufacturers of the inflatable chutes to analyze and test what occurred.
“The evacuation slide normally inflates when the door is opened,” she said. “It is unknown why the doors inflated inside the aircraft.”
Investigators are also looking at the seats and safety restraints, lap belts and shoulder straps in business class and only lap belts in economy, and how they worked on impact, but Hersman said no passenger seats were ejected from the craft.
As to a timeline of the crash and response, two minutes after stopping the first emergency crews arrived on scene and started putting out a fire outside row 10 where one of the engines was burning, Hersman said.
According to the flight attendants, they tried to expedite evacuation procedures by taking passengers to doors that were less crowded and once the fire started growing used fire extinguishers.
Hersman said the parts of the investigation that need to occur at the site on Runway 28L are wrapping up.
Within the next 24 hours and possibly by tonight, the runway will be returned to the control of the airport, and then officials will perform repair work before reopening the runway, Hersman said.
The work that still needs to be done includes cleaning up spilled jet fuel, checking electrical systems, repairing runway lights and fixing damage to the seawall, airport officials said. The FAA will also conduct test flights to re-certify the runway for use.
Hersman said investigators are continuing to probe what led to the botched landing, with the plane coming in too slowly and in the wrong position on the runway.
As part of four-hour interviews with the four pilots, Hersman said the flying pilot and his accompanying instructor pilot both had a full eight hours of sleep the night before take-off and the day before both had been in Seoul on a rest day.
She said the investigation looks at what the pilots were doing prior to the flight “to try to understand if they are fatigued” and “what type of conditions they are working under.”
The two pilots at the helm during take-off and landing had never worked together before, but flew together for four hours and 15 minutes at the beginning portion of the flight.
They resumed their seats in the cockpit for the last 1.5 hours before landing, along with a relief captain who was monitoring the descent into San Francisco International Airport.
Hersman said a key component of the investigation concerns automation and a clearer picture has yet to be pieced together of how the pilots were running the plane when it crashed.
She said pilots can decide to manually fly the airplane or leave maneuvers to autopilot and other computerized functions.
Hersman said automation is often helpful to pilots. She said the technique can decrease workloads, maintain altitude, and can help with things like fuel efficiency, among other benefits.
She noted automation “can help maintain a level of safety and efficiency in the cockpit.”
A plane can land itself, she said. Pilots serve as monitors when using automated features.
“There are two pilots in the cockpit for a reason,” she said.
“They are there to fly, to navigate, to communicate.”
Investigators are working to determine what degree of automation was in use when the plane crash-landed.
She said autopilot mode and auto-throttle, similar to cruise control in a car, were both in use in the final 2.5 minutes of the flight, according to flight data.
She said she would provide more updates about the investigation on Thursday.
Sasha Lekach, Bay City News