More details have emerged surrounding Asiana Flight 214 since it crash-landed at the San Francisco International airport Saturday afternoon, an accident that left two dead and hundreds injured. The Washington Post reports that the president of Asiana Airlines claimed there was no mechanical error. Instead, the pilot has come under a bit of scrutiny — Lee Gang-guk reportedly had only logged 43 hours flying the Boeing 777, though he had logged 10,000 hours flying other planes. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the plane was flying far too slowly during its descent and began to stall — before the pilot gunned the engines in a last-ditch attempt to avoid the crash-landing.
"We're not talking about a few knots here or there. It was significantly below the 137 knots" required for the approach, NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said. Between the data collected from the flight recorders and the fact that the plane was coming in far slower than it should, the NTSB believes that crew error may have been at fault for the crash — though Hersman said it might be months before the full cause is determined. The NTSB has been updating its Twitter feed with a number of startling images from the crash site, including the interior of the plane as well as the tail section which came off on landing. CNN has obtained amateur video footage of the crash, shot from about one mile away.
"There were walls of water beside the window — before we started hitting earth."
The New York Times has details on the plane's descent, noting that preliminary data shows that the plane dropped 600 feet in nine seconds about a minute and a half before the crash-landing —when it only should have dropped 150 feet in a normal landing. The same report paints a disturbing picture of the landing thanks to an account from survivor Benjamin Levy, who told the Times that instead of seeing the familiar site of the tarmac, he instead saw the San Francisco Bay waters. "The pilot put the gas full steam, and we tipped back up — he went full throttle to regain a bit of altitude," Levy told the Times. "We were so close to the water, the water got sprayed up," Mr. Levy said. "There were walls of water beside the window — before we started hitting earth."
More details have emerged surrounding those on board, as well. According to the Post, the two Chinese teenagers who died were thrown from the plane onto the runway during the crash, but an investigation is underway to determine if one of them died from being run over by an emergency vehicle rather than the crash itself. According to CNN, Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia were two out of 35 total students heading to California to attend a summer church camp. All in all, 182 people were hospitalized following the crash; the Post reports that at least eight passengers were in critical condition as of Sunday evening.
Meanwhile, business is slowly returning to normal at SFO. Two runways were reopened in the hours following the crash, and the SFO's Twitter account has been keeping passengers updated on delays and rescheduled flights. According to USA Today, more than 275 flights were cancelled and another 370 were delayed on Sunday, on top of the nearly 450 cancelled on Sunday.
Business as usual at SFO. This is surreal. pic.twitter.com/cva6rkRwyX— Nancy Gay (@nancygay) July 8, 2013
Update, 10:17AM: While we already knew the pilot had limited experience flying a Boeing 777, the senior pilot who oversaw the landing was making his first flight as a certified trainer. Lee Jung-min had received his training certification in June, but was highly experienced with the 777, having logged over 3,200 hours as a pilot. "Only veterans are qualified to become flight instructors. They need to go through training to get certificates," an Asiana official told Reuters.
Update: 2:49PM: Though some reports have suggested that the plane was also descending too quickly, at a rate of 4,000 feet per minute, NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman tentatively denied that claim in a press conference today. She said that "no abnormally steep descent curve" has been detected in the currently available flight data. She also said that there was "no evidence of any distress calls or problem reports with the aircraft" before the accident occurred.
According to the flight data recorder, the aircraft had been slowing down until three seconds before the crash. That data showed the airplane traveling at 106 knots (roughly 122 MPH) at the time of impact. The plane had already slowed to 134 knots by the time it had descended to an altitude of 500 feet. According to the NTSB, that was too slow: "137 knots is the speed they want to have when they cross the threshold of the runway," said Hersman.
The NTSB chair explained that it will take time to interview the pilots, transcribe the cockpit audio recorder data (some of it in Korean) and investigate the evidence at the scene before coming to any conclusion.