US officials examined flight information recorders and began investigating the crash of an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 that burst into flames upon landing in San Francisco, killing two young passengers and injuring more than 180 people, officials said yesterday.
There was no immediate indication of the cause of Saturday’s accident, but Asiana said mechanical failure did not appear to be a factor. The airline declined to blame either the pilot or the San Francisco control tower.
Eric Weiss, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said the plane’s “black boxes” — the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder — had been recovered and were being sent to Washington for analysis. The Federal Aviation Administration was also investigating.
NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said yesterday there was no indication of a criminal act, but it was too early to determine what went wrong.
“Everything is still on the table,” she said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
Witnesses said the tail of the plane, which was coming in from Seoul, appeared to hit the approach area of the runway that juts into San Francisco Bay. One witness said the plane appeared to be coming in too low and too fast.
The tail came off and the aircraft appeared to bounce violently, scattering a trail of debris before coming to rest on the tarmac.
The dead were both teenage female Chinese nationals who had been seated at the rear of the aircraft, according to government officials in Seoul and Asiana.
“For now, we acknowledge that there were no problems caused by the 777-200 plane or [its] engines,” Asiana president and CEO Yoon Young-doo told reporters yesterday at the company headquarters on the outskirts of Seoul.
Dale Carnes, assistant deputy chief of the San Francisco Fire Department, said 49 people were hospitalized with serious injuries. Another 132 suffered moderate and minor injuries.
Survivor Benjamin Levy told a local NBC station he believed the Asiana plane had been coming in too low.
“I know the airport pretty well, so I realized the guy was a bit too low, too fast, and somehow he was not going to hit the runway on time, so he was too low ... he put some gas and tried to go up again,” he said in a telephone interview.
“But it was too late, so we hit the runway pretty bad, and then we started going up in the air again, and then landed again, pretty hard,” Levy said.
The accident did not affect flights between Taiwan and San Francisco. China Airlines (華航, CAL) and EVA Airways (EVA, 長榮) flights departing from San Francisco had taken off before the accident occurred and arrived at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport early yesterday morning.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Anna Kao (高安) said the ministry had contacted its office in South Korea and in Los Angeles and found that no passengers aboard the Asiana aircraft were Taiwanese passport holders.
The Travel Agent Association said that, in general, Taiwanese travelers either take direct flights from Taoyuan to San Francisco or fly to the city via Tokyo. It was unusual for Taiwanese to travel to San Francisco after taking a transit flight in Seoul, the association said.
Additional reporting by Shelley Shan