Probe focus shifts to pilot's inexperience with jet - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Probe focus shifts to pilot's inexperience with jet

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SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (Fox News) -- Asiana Airlines said Monday that the pilot in control of the Boeing 777 that crashed at San Francisco International Airport Saturday had little experience flying that type of plane and was landing one for the first time at that airport.

Asiana spokeswoman Lee Hyomin told the Associated Press Monday that Lee Gang-guk was trying to get used to the 777 during Saturday's crash landing. She said the pilot had nearly 10,000 hours flying other planes, including the Boeing 747, but had only 43 hours on the 777.

Hyomin told Reuters that co-pilot Lee Jeong-min has 3,220 hours of flying experience with the Boeing 777 and a total of 12,387 hours of flying experience, and was helping his colleague with the landing.

In all, four pilots were on the plane and worked in rotating shifts during the 10-and-a-half hour flight from Seoul. The pilots were described by Asiana chief executive Yoon Young-doo as veterans, with more than 10,000 hours of flight experience. "And one pilot has 9,000, almost 10,000 hours' experience," he said.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman said investigators aim to interview all four pilots Monday and will look into whether or not the pilot's experience flying the Boeing 777 had a role in the crash landing.

"You want to make sure they can do it safely every time, and safely the first time," she told Fox News.

The South Korea government announced Monday that officials will inspect engines and landing equipment on all Boeing 777 planes owned by Asiana and Korean Air, the national carrier.

Hersman said Sunday that a preliminary review of recordings taken from the black boxes on the plane showed that during its landing attempt, it was traveling "significantly" slower than normal before it crashed.

The crash killed two people and injured at least 182. The plane, traveling from South Korea, slammed into the runway on Saturday morning, breaking off its tail and catching fire before slumping to a stop that allowed some passengers to flee down emergency slides into thick smoke and a trail of debris. Firefighters doused the flames that burned through the fuselage with foam and water, and police officers on the ground threw utility knives up to crew members so they could cut the seat belts of those who remained trapped as rescue crews removed the injured.

Hersman said during a press conference Sunday afternoon that the flight crew on Asiana Airlines Flight 214 had a visible approach to the runway and put the plane's landing gear down, according to communications heard in the cockpit voice recorder.

Hersman added that the plane's target speed for the landing was 137 knots (158 mph) and the crew had no discussion of anomalies or concerns with the way the plane was descending.

But seven seconds before the plane hit into a seawall, one of the crew members called on the pilots to increase speed. Information from the flight data recorder said the plane was going well below the target landing speed, and the engine throttles advanced.

Four seconds before impact, a "stick shaker" – a device that emits an oral and physical warning to the crew that the plane is about to stall – sounded off, Hersman said.

The crew then asked to abort the landing and make another attempt 1.5 seconds before impact.

Hersman said there were no reports of wind conditions or weather playing a role in the crash landing.

The black box recordings were taken from the plane wreckage and analyzed at a lab in Washington D.C.

Authorities are also looking into what role the shutdown of key pilot navigational aid had in the crash.

Earlier Sunday, Hersman said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that the glide slope system is a ground-based aid that helps pilots stay on course while landing and it has been shut down at the San Francisco airport since June. The pilots, however, were notified before the crash that the system wasn't available.

Aircraft security experts told Reuters that the glide slope system is not essential for routine landings, but it's not unusual for airports to disable them for maintenance reasons.

"The pilots would have had to rely solely on visual cues to fly the proper glide path to the runway, and not have had available to them the electronic information that they typically have even in good weather at most major airports," said Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who crash landed a plane in New York's Hudson River in 2009, told a CBS news affiliate, according to Reuters.

"What that means is that then the automatic warnings that would occur in the cockpit when you deviate below the desired electronic path wouldn't have been available either. So we don't know yet if that's a factor in this particular situation, but that's certainly something they'll be looking at," he said.

An NTSB team arrived Sunday at the scene of the crash to investigate.

Hersman said the NTSB is currently focusing on gathering perishable information from the accident scene and getting the airport fully operational again.

San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee said at a news conference Saturday evening that all 291 passengers and 16 crew members onboard the plane had been accounted for, but officials said 182 people were taken to area hospitals. As of Sunday afternoon, 19 people remained hospitalized with six in critical condition, one being a child.

On audio recordings from the air traffic tower, controllers told all pilots in other planes to stay put after the crash. "All runways are closed. Airport is closed. San Francisco tower," said one controller.

At one point, the pilot of a United Airlines plane radioed, "We see people ... that need immediate attention," the pilot said. "They are alive and walking around."

Asiana is a South Korean airline, second in size to Korean Air. It has recently tried to expand its presence in the United States, and is a member of the Star Alliance, which is anchored in the U.S. by United Airlines.

The 777-200 is a long-range plane from Boeing. The twin-engine aircraft is one of the world's most popular long-distance planes, often used for flights of 12 hours or more, from one continent to another. It is a smaller, wide-body jet that can travel long distances without refueling and is typically used for long flights over water. The airline's website says its 777s can carry between 246 to 300 passengers.

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