Asiana Flight Tried To Abort Landing Seconds Before Crash

NPR icon by Bill Chappell
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Marcio Jose Sanchez

Update at 5:54 p.m.

Asiana Airlines Flight 214 tried to abort its landing and come in for another try just 1 1/2 seconds before it crashed Saturday at San Francisco airport, killing two people and injuring dozens of others.

That was the information gleaned from the jetliner's cockpit voice recorder, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board said at a Sunday news conference. NTSB chief Deborah Hersman also said about 7 seconds prior to impact, there was a call to increase speed.

She said the flight data recorder captured the entire flight.

"We have a long way to go in this investigation," Hersman said.

NPR's Laura Sydell talked to weekends on All Things Considered about the news conference:

"Well, I should say, although its sounds like it could be pilot error, there's a lot we don't know. For example, there are systems on the ground that assist pilots in landing and we know that at least one of them wasn't working. It's called the Instrument Landing System, or ILS. It hasn't been functioning since June because of construction at the airport. What this system does is basically warn a pilot if they are coming in to low. But, literally thousands of flights have landed in San Francisco without using it, and it was a clear day, no reports of weather problems, and pilots are trained to use their eyes when they land a plane.

"It also could have been a mechnical problem with the plane itself. But keep in mind this is the first time that anyone would have been killed in a crash of a Boeing 777 — it has a great safety record. The CEO of Asiana said he did not believe there was a mechanical problem. And as for pilot error, it's a more than 10-hour flight, that's exhausting, but, the pilot was a seasoned veteran with a lot of support he had a co-pilot and two other back up pilots, which is standard for a flight of this length."

But as one pilot told the show, shorter routes can sometimes be more tiring than longer, international flights.

The Associated Press also reported that investigators said they were looking into the possibility that rescue crews ran over one of the two teenagers killed in the crash.

Our original post:

An investigation has begun into Saturday's crash-landing of a South Korean airliner at San Francisco's airport, which left two passengers dead and dozens more injured. Two teenage girls from China were killed, the airline says.

The Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 had begun its trip in Shanghai, adding more passengers in South Korea, reports China's Xinhua news agency, which says 141 Chinese citizens were on the flight to San Francisco International Airport.

As it came in for landing before noon Saturday, the plane's tail section snapped off after it struck the ground short of the runway, according to multiple witness accounts. The jetliner then twisted and slid down the tarmac. After the plane's inflatable emergency escape ramps deployed, many passengers slid to safety.

As it sat on the runway, the aircraft sent billows of smoke into the sky. Images taken later showed a large portion of the 777's roof had burned away.

"Based on numbers provided by the San Francisco Fire Dept. and regional hospital officials, two people died and 182 others were taken to hospitals," the local CBS News affiliate reports, "including 49 who were seriously injured, ten of them critically including two small children."

Asiana and government officials have identified students Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia as the two girls killed Saturday. They were part of a large group of students and teachers who were heading to the United States for a summer camp, reports the South China Morning Post.

All 307 people aboard the plane have now been accounted for, officials say, and investigators began their work on the scene before midnight. The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration each say that they're sending investigators to San Francisco.

The incident triggered delays and rerouting of dozens of other flights, as jets were sent to airports in Oakland, Los Angeles, and elsewhere to absorb the flow of travelers. As of early Sunday, two runways at the airport remain closed, reports the local ABC 7 News.

One person who saw the plane from the ground was Stephanie Turner, a visitor to California who was taking a photo of the runway when she saw the Asiana 777 descending.

"And then I noticed that the tail was very, very low. The angle was bad. And so as it came in, the tail of the plane struck first," she told NPR Saturday.

Among the passengers was Samsung executive David Eun, who tweeted "I just crash landed at SFO. Tail ripped off. Most everyone seems fine. I'm ok. Surreal..." Eun also posted a photo of the jet.

We'll be following developments today, and updating this post as they come in.

With all those aboard accounted for, transportation officials are now turning their focus to finding the cause of the disastrous landing, the first time a Boeing 777 has been involved in a crash with fatalities in its 18 years of service, ABC reports.

The chief executive of Asiana Airlines says that the flight's pilots were well-trained and had thousands of hours of experience. He also said there were no issues with the plane.

"For now, we acknowledge that there were no problems caused by the 777-200 plane or (its) engines," airline president and CEO Yoon Young-doo said at a news conference Sunday, Reuters reports.

The news agency also reports that parts of the San Francisco airport's landing systems, designed to help pilots make perfect descents onto runways, had been turned off on the runway that was the scene of Saturday's crash-landing.

The system is seen as an aid to pilots, rather than an essential guide — particularly during clear conditions such as those reported Saturday.

Saturday, officials from the FBI said that they saw no signs that the crash-landing was related to terrorism.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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