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Crash investigators turn to cockpit decisions

Posted: July 9, 2013 7:00 a.m.
Updated: July 9, 2013 7:00 a.m.
 

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Investigators trying to understand why Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash-landed focused Monday on the actions of an experienced pilot learning his way around a new aircraft, fellow pilots who were supposed to be monitoring him and why no one noticed that the plane was coming in too slow.

Authorities also reviewed the initial rescue efforts after fire officials acknowledged that one of their trucks may have run over one of the two Chinese teenagers killed in the crash at San Francisco International Airport. The students were the accident's only fatalities.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman said investigators watched airport surveillance video to determine whether an emergency vehicle hit one of the students. But they have not reached any firm conclusions. A coroner said he would need at least two weeks to rule in the matter.

The students had been in the rear of the aircraft, where many of the most seriously injured passengers were seated, Hersman said.

The NTSB also said part of the jet's tail section was found in San Francisco Bay, and debris from the seawall was carried several hundred feet down the runway, indicating the plane hit the seawall on its approach.

Investigators have said Flight 214 was flying "significantly below" its target speed during approach when the crew tried to abort the landing just before the plane smashed onto the runway. Authorities do not know yet whether the pilot's inexperience with the Boeing 777 and landing it at San Francisco's airport played a role.

The airline acknowledged Monday in Seoul that the pilot at the controls had flown that type of plane for only a short time and had never before landed one at that airport.

Asiana spokeswoman Lee Hyomin said pilot Lee Gang-guk had logged nearly 10,000 hours operating other planes but had only 43 hours in the 777, a plane she said he was still getting used to.

It's not unusual for veteran pilots to learn about new aircraft by flying with more experienced colleagues. Another pilot on the flight, Lee Jeong-min, had 12,390 hours of flying experience, including 3,220 hours on the 777, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport in South Korea.

Lee Jeong-min was the deputy pilot helping Lee Gang-guk get accustomed to the 777, according to Asiana Airlines.

It was unclear whether the other two pilots were in the cockpit, which in the Boeing 777 typically seats four. But that would be standard procedure at most airlines at the end of a long international flight.

NTSB lead investigator Bill English said pilot interviews were going slowly because of the need for translation. The interviews began only after agents from the Korean Aviation and Rail Accident Investigation Board arrived from South Korea.

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