Asiana 214 Crash: NTSB Eyes Pilot Actions

Jetliner was slow on approach.

Asiana Crash NTSB

Asiana Crash NTSB

** Courtesy of NTSB**

The Asiana Boeing 777 that crashed at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday was flying in an unusually nose-high attitude on approach and “significantly below” its target airspeed, investigators said yesterday.

The NTSB has confirmed that the jetliner had its gear down, flaps set to 30 degrees and the engines were at idle power — but the 777-200ER was flying far slower than its target airspeed of 137 knots, NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman confirmed. She said one of the pilots voiced his concern about the low airspeed 7 seconds before impact. About 4 seconds before impact the stick shaker activated. One of the pilots called for a go-around 1.5 seconds before impact, but it was too late.

The engines responded to the crew’s demand for power, said Hersman, but at the slow airspeed the airliner continued descending. The tail section slammed into the sea wall well short of the runway, tearing off the tail, undercarriage and an engine. The remainder of the 777 careened across the airfield, coming to a rest next to the runway with severe damage.

A fire started and spread to the cabin as passengers and crew evacuated. There were more than 300 people on board, 49 of them with serious injuries. Two Chinese teenagers died, one of them possibly after being run over by an emergency vehicle.

Asiana Flight 214 originated in Shanghai, China, and stopped over in Seoul, South Korea, before making the nearly 11-hour trip to San Francisco. Pilot fatigue will be an element of the crash investigation, as will the low time in type of one of the pilots. Hersman said a captain with “a lot of hours” but who was new to the 777 was flying with a check captain on his second trip to San Francisco. Asiana executives have confirmed that the less experienced pilot, with around 10,000 hours of flight time but just 43 of them in the 777, was flying the approach.

Also of note is the fact that the glideslope at SFO was out. Hersman said the pilots had set a Vref speed of 137 knots but that the 777 slowed to 134 knots while at 500 feet and 34 seconds prior to impact. Airspeed continued to decrease until moments before impact, when the airplane slowed to an airspeed of 103 knots. A focus of the investigation will involve the roles of autothrottle and the power settings used on the approach.

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