SAN FRANCISCO – The tragedy of Asiana Flight 214, which crashed on July 6, 2013, has echoed all around the world. Two teenage girls are dead, more than 180 people injured and four of them remain in critical condition. The National Transportation Safety Board have launched an investigation on the Asiana Airlines Boejing 777 aircraft that was flying at 25 per cent below its intended speed before slamming into the ground.
According to the NTSB, the flight data and interview with the pilots during Monday and Tuesday have given them some initial facts about the crash of the flight 214 during the landing on San Francisco International Airport this Saturday.
The main focus of the investigations is the extremely low speed the airplane was flying at the end of its approach to the runway of the airport; According the the flight data recorder recovered from the plane, the Boeing 777 was flying almost 40 knots below the normal approach speed; it also shows the Stall warning being automatically triggered in the cockpit, which indicates the pilot that the speed of the plane is reaching the point where the plane is not able to stay in the air anymore.
It is also well known by now that the pilots were performing a manual approach (no autopilot), instead engaging the auto throttle, a system that allows the plane to automatically maintain a certain speed.
This leads to belief that it was in part a computer error instead of a pilot error, as it was regarded during the first days of the investigation.
Another part of the investigation is focus on the low altitude of the plane; there are several facts, but one of the most important is the fact that due to construction on the airport, a system called “glideslope” was not available for the pilots. This system gives a clear visual signal on the cockpit which allows the pilots to determine whether they are on the right altitude and descent pattern for a safety landing on a runway.
One of the three pilots on the cockpit reported that the visual aid on the airport called PAPA lights (a visual aid to determine whether the plane is on the right descent path for a safety landing) showed that the airplane was too low in the last few seconds before the impact.
The voice recording also gives some details about the decisions of the pilots in the cockpit, the NTSB stating that, less than 2 seconds before impact, one of the pilots decided to “go around” which means that they wanted to gain altitude again and try to land after circling the airport.
Concerning the weather, it was a clear day, which allowed for visual approaches at the time of the accident. Other planes safety landed before the accident.
The pilot in control was a veteran with 10000 hours of experience operating different airplanes such as the Boeing 737, Boeing 747 and Airbus A320, but with little experience on the Boeing 777. In fact, he was on his training phase with only 35 hours on this particular plane. Asiana training program requires a pilot to log 60 hours on the 777 before being completely qualified.
According to Asiana, out of four South Korean pilots that were on board, three were skilled. Lee Kang-kuk was the pilot at the controls who was still training on Boeing 777 jets. The CEO of the airline has also defended the pilots‘ experience in a crowded press conference: “It is a training that is common in the global aviation industry. All responsibilities lie with the instructor captain”, said the president of the airline, Yoon Young-doo. “I will make a sincere apology and visit the hospitals where our passengers are being treated. I‘ll be there in a show of repentance on behalf of Asiana Airlines”, he added.
The NTSB has been criticised for two reasons; one, because the investigator didn’t take samples of the pilots’ blood as a measure to determine if they had alcohol or other substances in their systems, but according to NTSB, this kind of test is only required for American Pilots and the 4 pilots of the Asiana fight were Korean; secondly, a pilots’ association has citizen the rather fast speculations that the pilots was responsible for the accident.
The plane’s main landing gear touched the seawall on the edge of the runway causing the structure of the plane to break and spin out of control; the fire was caused by an oil tank rupture which eventually leaked into the right engine of the plane causing the fire that eventually consumed several places in the cabin.
South Korean Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said that the 291 passengers on board included 141 Chinese nationals. More than 180 of these passengers required treatment at the local hospitals after the crash – most of them are suffering from fractures, head trauma, chest injuries, inhalation issues and paralysis.
According to the Chinese authorities, a large number of the Chinese citizen victims were high school students and teachers heading over to summer camps. Chinese reports identified two of the teenagers from China‘s eastern province Zhejiang, Ye Mengyuan (16) and Wang Linjia (16), who died on this plane crash. While China is mourning its dead, the tragedy of Ye and Wang has hit a nerve in a nation of single-child households and caused a debate in on country‘s wealth issue.
South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has also reflected regret in a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping that was sent this Monday.
“I offer condolences to the families of the Chinese students killed in the plane crash. I think people‘s safety is the most important thing, so it is truly regrettable that this accident has happened,” she stated in a press conference.
It is reportedly Asiana‘s third fatal plane crash since it started operating in 1988 and the first fatal accident involving the Boejing 777 since it entered service in 1995.
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