Asiana Airlines Flight 214 after crashing at San Francisco International Airport, July 6, 2013.
SAN FRANCISCO (USA Today) - Asiana Airlines Flight 214 was traveling well below its target speed for landing when it crashed short of the runway Saturday, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman said at a briefing Sunday.
"The speed was significantly below 137 knots, and we're not talking a few knots," she said.
Asiana Airlines said the pilot in charge of landing the Boeing 777 was in training for flying that model of jet, and that this was his first flight into San Francisco at the controls of a 777, the Associated Press reported.
"It was Lee Kang-kook's maiden flight to the airport with the jet." a spokeswoman for Asiana Airlines who was not identified by name said, the news agency reported. It reported that he had flown Boeing 747 jets into San Francisco's airport previously, and was assisted on this flight by another pilot with more experience flying the 777.
The plane was travelling "significantly below" its intended speed and its crew tried to abort the landing just seconds before it hit the seawall in front of the runway, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said on Sunday.
"He has a lot of experience and previously flown to San Francisco on different planes including the B747... and he was assisted by another pilot who has more experience with the 777," the spokeswoman said.
San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said Sunday that his office was investigating whether one of the two Chinese girls killed in the crash had been run over by a rescue vehicle. He said San Francisco Fire Department officials notified him at the site Saturday that one of the 16-year-olds may have been struck on the runway. An autopsy was to be completed Monday.
Hersman provided details of what investigators found in their initial review of the plane's flight data and cockpit voice recorders: "The approach proceeds normally as they descend. There is no discussion of any aircraft anomalies or concerns with the approach. A call from one of the crewmembers to increase speed was made approximately seven seconds prior to impact."
The "stick shaker," which gives an audible and motion signal warning that the plane is flying too slowly and is about to stall, sounds "approximately four seconds prior to impact."
The pilot requested a "go-around" - to abort the landing, fly around the airport and try again, Hersman said.
"A call to initiate a go-around occurred 1.5 seconds before impact," she said.
Hersman said investigators will look at all possibilities for the cause of the crash, including pilot error.
"Everything is on the table," she said.
The flight crew had not been interviewed, a process that may take a few more days, she said. The engines will be dismantled to look for further clues.
"What we need to do is corroborate the information we have on both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder" for a complete picture of what happened, she said, but the two devices appeared to "mirror" each other - that anomalies in the data appear to correspond to the pilots' actions.
The CEO of Asiana Airlines said Sunday he had ruled out engine or mechanical problems in the crash.
Yoon Young Doo, the president and chief executive of the airline, said at company headquarters Sunday, "I bow my head and sincerely apologize for causing concern to the passengers, families and our people.
"For now, we acknowledge that there were no problems caused by the 777-200 plane or engines," Yoon said.
He declined to comment directly on whether the crash was due to pilot error or air-traffic controllers but said the three captains on board had more than 10,000 flying hours of experience between them.
The two teenage girls who died were identified Sunday as Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia from China's eastern Zhejiang province, according to China Central TV. They were among a group of 29 middle-school students and five teachers heading for a summer camp in the USA. Their bodies were found outside the plane, which had come to rest between runways.
They were headed to a three-week stay in Los Angeles at a church school in the San Fernando Valley, West Valley Christian School administrator Derek Swales said.
At least 168 people were treated for injuries. Eight were still in critical condition.
After the crash, smoke billowed from the jet, and frightened passengers scampered to safety from emergency exits on the plane's fuselage. A massive, gaping hole blackened by fire stretched along much of the plane's top.
It was the first fatal crash of a commercial airline in the USA since February 2009.
The flight, which originated in Shanghai before stopping in Seoul en route to San Francisco, carried 61 U.S. citizens, 77 South Koreans and 141 Chinese.
Early Sunday, South Korea's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport identified the two pilots flying the jetliner at the time of the crash as Lee Jeong Min and Lee Gang Guk. The ministry said four pilots were on board and rotated in two-person shifts during the 10-hour flight from Seoul.
Hersman said a component of the airport's instrument landing system that tracks the glide path of incoming airplanes was not working at the time of the crash, but other technology aids were available to the pilots on the final approach.
The computerized system calculates a plane's path of descent and sends the information to pilots in real time.
Vedpal Singh, who was sitting in the middle of the aircraft and survived the crash with his family, said there was no warning from the pilot or any crewmembers before the plane touched down hard and he heard a loud sound.
"We knew something was horrible wrong," said Singh, who suffered a fractured collarbone and had his arm in a sling. "It's miraculous we survived."
Passenger Benjamin Levy, 39, said it looked to him as though the plane was flying too low and too close to the bay as it approached the runway. Levy, who was sitting in an emergency exit row, said he felt the pilot try to lift the jet up before it crashed and thinks the maneuver might have saved some lives.
"Everybody was screaming. I was trying to usher them out," he recalled of the first seconds after the landing. "I said, 'Stay calm, stop screaming, help each other out, don't push.'"
By William M. Welch, Chris Woodyard and Doug Stanglin , USA TODAY