The flight crew of the Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 which crash-landed at the San Francisco International Airport could not see the runway just seconds earlier, given how far the plane was out of position, US investigators said on Tuesday.
With attention focused on whether human error caused the aircraft to slam into the ground, missing the runway, it was also confirmed that the training pilot on board was undertaking his inaugural flight as an instructor.
The crash killed two Chinese students and left more than 180 injured, but given the heavy impact and extent of the damage, experts have said it was fortunate that the death toll was not higher.
Three of Asiana flight 214’s four pilots have now been interviewed, said US National Transportation Safety Board chair Deborah Hersman, who is leading the probe.
She then described the pilots’ last-ditch attempt to avert the disaster.
“The pilot that was sitting in the jump seat, the relief first officer, identified that he could not see the runway ... from his seated position. And that the aircraft — the nose was pitched up, so he could not see the runway,” Hersman said.
The accident happened just seconds later, when at an altitude of only 152m, the instructor pilot “realized they were too low.”
“He went to push the throttles forward, but he stated that the pilot had already — the other pilot had already pushed the throttles forward,” Hersman said.
Investigators previously said that just 1.5 seconds before the plane smashed into the ground, a member of the flight crew asked to abort the landing, though it was too late to take such action.
The aircraft clipped a seawall and went skidding out of control, breaking up and quickly bursting into flames when one of its engines caught fire.
The fourth pilot — the relief captain — was in the cabin and not in the cockpit at the time of the crash. The pilot at the controls — named by Asiana as Lee Kang-kuk — was about halfway through his training for flying the Boeing 777, but had led 29 flights to San Francisco on Boeing 747s in the past, according to the airline.
“To complete initial operating experience for Asiana, he’s required to have 20 flights and 60 flight hours. He had 10 legs, he had completed 10 legs. And about 35 hours flying the 777,” Hersman said on Tuesday.
However, his trainer — who told US investigators he had a total of 13,000 flying hours, 3,000 of which were in the Boeing 777 — had not flown in that role before.
“He reported that this was his first trip as an instructor pilot,” Hersman said.
“The instructor pilot stated that he was the pilot in command. This was the first time that he and the flying pilot that he was instructing had flown together,” she added.