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Disturbing new information about B777 crash at SFO

July 9, 2013 Aviation, Headline News 1 Comment Email Email

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The pilot at the controls of the Asiana Airlines plane that crashed in San Francisco on Saturday was still “in training” for the Boeing 777 and was making his first landing with that type of aircraft at San Francisco International Airport.

The plane’s flight crew tried to abort the landing less than two seconds before hitting a sea wall while trying to touch down on the runway.

The pilot, Lee Kang-gook, had flown from Seoul to San Francisco several times before, between 1999 and 2004 – but not in a B777, the airline added. While the 46-year-old pilot had clocked up an impressive 10,000 flying hours, only 43 hours of those were on a B777.Sidebar-Article-Banner-250

Pilots transition from one aircraft type to another from time to time. The pilot was highly experienced and Asiana Airlines said he was helped by another pilot who had more experience flying B777s, the BBC reported.

The cause of the crash has not been determined officially but pilot error is a strong  assumption.

The plane came in to land very low and slow, with passengers on the window seats realising that the sea was coming alarmingly close, well before the plane was over the runway.

The plane touched down short of the runway. Its tail slammed into a seawall, ripping the tail section off before the rest of the aircraft skidded along the runway and burst into flames. Passengers received no warning at all and were not told to brace, although they had their seatbelts fastened in preparation for landing.

Analysis of  flight recorders on the plane by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) yesterday confirm that the aircraft approached the runway at a much slower speed than advisable. One of the crew called for more speed about seven seconds before impact. The “stick shaker” (a mechanical device that rapidly and noisily vibrates to warn the pilot of an imminent stall) sounded.

At the very last moment (literally 1.5 seconds before impact) one of the pilots requested a “go-around” – the term for aborting a landing, going around and trying again. But by then it was too late.

Other possible causes of the crash were quickly ruled out. The FBI found no evidence of terrorism. The plane still had plenty of fuel aboard after its 11-hour flight, as evidenced by the pall of thick black smoke when it burned, visible for kilometres.

Asiana said that the plane, flight OZ 214 from Seoul, had 291 passengers and 16 crew aboard. Of those, two passengers died – both 16-year-old schoolgirls from eastern China. One was possibly run over by an airport fire engine racing to the scene while she lay on the tarmac. That is being investigated.

Last night, five passengers were in critical condition in hospital and 15 were still unconscious. In all, 181 were hospitalised or treated for injuries, mainly minor. The survival rate was remarkably high for a major crash and experts acknowledged it could have been far worse.

The Boeing 777 is considered one of safest planes in operation. More than 1100 are in service and the Asiana crash was the B777’s first fatal accident since the model first took to the skies 18 years ago.

Asiana says the plane that crashed was built in 2006 and was bought new by the airline in the same year. The airline knows of no engine or mechanical problems with it.

B777s are generally extremely safe, as are other big modern passenger jets. The B747 has an enviable safety record and the Airbus A340 and A380 have never suffered a fatal crash.

Saturday’s accident was the first multiple-fatality crash involving a major airline in North America since November 2001.

Years ago, crashes occurred more frequently. In 1985, 27 crashes killed almost 2400 people (though the Air India downing over the North Atlantic in that year, with 329 casualties, was an anomaly as it was bombed by terrorists).

Asiana, Korea’s second-largest carrier after Korean Air, is a full-service airline with an excellent safety record until Saturday’s crash.

Written by : Peter Needham

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Brian says:

    This is happening all too often with Asian airlines around the world; unforgivable, elementary mistakes and unfortunately it may only become worse as the demand for pilots in Asia grows.

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