Asiana Airlines yesterday confirmed that the pilot flying the Boeing 777 that crashed in San Francisco was in training, opening the possibility of human error as a cause of the deadly accident.
Two teenage Chinese girls were the only fatalities in the fiery crash on Saturday, although six of the 307 people aboard the flight remained in area hospitals in critical condition.
Chinese state media identified the two dead passengers as Ye Mengyuan (葉夢園), 16, and Wang Linjia (王琳佳), 17, high school classmates from Zhejiang Province.
One of the girls may have been run over by an airport fire engine rushing to the scene, San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White told reporters. White did not identify the victim.
“As it possibly could have happened, based on the injuries sustained, it could have been one of our vehicles that added to the injuries, or another vehicle,” Hayes-White told the San Francisco Chronicle.
San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault told the newspaper that the other girl appeared to have died from injuries suffered as she was hurled out of the plane when its tail broke off.
The two friends were coming to visit Stanford University, just south of San Francisco, and to attend a summer camp at a local Christian school, the Chronicle reported.
US investigators said on Sunday that the Asiana jet was traveling much slower than recommended as it attempted to land.
The flight data recorder showed that as the Boeing 777 approached the runway, its pilots were warned that the aircraft was likely to stall and asked it to abort the landing.
The request to abort was captured on the cockpit voice recorder 1.5 seconds before the plane crashed, said National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman Deborah Hersman, who is leading the probe.
The plane was landing at a speed well below the recommended 137 knots (254kph), Hersman said.
Her announcement came minutes after a video obtained by CNN confirmed that the aircraft clipped a seawall short of the airport runway and skidded on its belly. The footage showed the plane with its nose up and its rear hitting the ground. The plane then hit the tarmac, abruptly bounced upward and spun around 180o. The plane’s tail section was torn off.
Hersman also said investigators will look into whether the absence of the instrument landing system (ILS) at the airport might have played a role in the accident. The ILS uses radio signals to create a three-dimensional “glide slope” for planes to follow so they are not too high, too low or too far to the right or left. The ILS for runway 28 left, where the plane crashed, had been shut down since last month, and the beginning of the runway was moved 91m to the west to accommodate construction at the airport, according to pilots who use the airport.
In Seoul yesterday, Asiana said pilot Lee Kang-kuk had 43 hours of experience in piloting the 777 and was still undergoing training, although he had more than 9,000 hours of flight time experience.
“It’s true that Lee was on transition training for the Boeing 777,” an Asiana spokeswoman said.
However, he was accompanied by an experienced trainer, who acted as co-pilot, she said.
Additional reporting by AP