Flight 214 Crash: Plane Was Going Nearly 40 MPH Too Slow During Descent

National Transportation Safety Board investigators today are interviewing the four pilots who were in the cockpit of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 when it crashed at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday.

NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said at a news conference in South San Francisco today that the interviews will delve into all aspects of the flight, including why the plane was going nearly 40 mph below the recommended speed as it descended toward the runway.

See all SF Appeal coverage of the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 here.

Hersman said there were three captains and a first officer on Flight 214, which originated in Shanghai, China, stopped in Seoul, South Korea, then flew across the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco.

Hersman said one captain is a seasoned pilot but was still working on getting experience flying a Boeing 777. That captain was working with a training captain, she said.

She said once the interviews are completed, more information will likely be released at another news conference on Tuesday about who was operating the plane and what led to the crash.

Hersman said investigators will also be looking into the pilots’ activities, including how much rest they had gotten, in the 72 hours prior to the crash.

“We’re often looking for things that would affect human performance,” she said, including fatigue, illness, and the use of medication.

She said the interviews would also focus on the pilots’ use of autopilot and other automated equipment on the plane, as well as whether there was any miscommunication between the pilots or with the airport’s control tower.

Hersman said there was no evidence from the cockpit voice recorder or flight data recorder of any distress calls or problem reports prior to the crash.

She said the plane reached a low speed of 103 knots seconds before the crash. That speed is 34 knots, or about 39 mph, below the recommended speed during runway approaches, she said.

The pilots made a call for an increase in speed about seven seconds before the crash and a cockpit instrument called a “stick shaker” gave crewmembers an audible warning that the airplane was about to stall about three seconds later, Hersman said.

About 1.5 seconds before impact, the pilots called for a go-around, meaning they wanted to circle around and attempt a second landing, she said.

However, the plane struck the seawall on the edge of the runway and bounced before skidding to a stop to the left of the runway, where flames engulfed the aircraft shortly afterward. Two 16-year-old girls died as a result of the crash, while more than 180 others were injured.

Hersman said “a significant portion of the tail” of the plane was found by investigators in the water while other tail parts were found in the rocks of the seawall.

Hersman said investigators were also looking into whether a San Francisco emergency vehicle may have struck and killed one of the teenage girls while responding to the crash. The cause of the girl’s death has not yet been determined by the San Mateo County coroner, she said.

Hersman said the two girls who died were sitting near the rear of the plane during the flight.

The multi-pronged investigation into the crash includes various local agencies as well as the Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing, engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney and the NTSB’s Korean counterpart, the Korean Aviation and Railway Accident Investigation Board.

Hersman said the next update from the NTSB on the crash will likely be provided Tuesday at an as-yet-undetermined place and time.

Dan McMenamin/Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

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