Neither Asiana Airlines nor the NTSB have indicated whether they think human error could have been behind the crash of Flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday. But neither have explicitly ruled it out, and on Sunday, new information hinted further at the possibility: As the NTSB said the airplane had approached the runway too slowly and too low, Asiana revealed the pilot was training on the Boeing 777 and it was his first time landing the craft at SFO. Asiana’s president, Yoon Yong-doo, insisted there was no mechanical failure. In addition, Bay Area emergency officials said one of the victims who died may have been run over by an emergency vehicle responding to the crash.
Pilot Lee Kang-kook was in training on the the 777, with only 43 hours of flight time in the aircraft, but he has 9,739 hours of flight time overall, an Asiana Spokesman told Reuters. “He has a lot of experience and previously flown to San Francisco on different planes including the B747… and he was assisted by another pilot who has more experience with the 777.” The co-pilot, Lee Jeong-min, has 3,220 hours of time with the jet and 12,387 hours overall.
But despite their combined experience, NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman highlighted the severity of the incorrect approach, via information from the flight’s cockpit and data recorders: “We’re not talking about a few knots here or there. It was significantly below the 137 knots” required for the landing approach, Hersman said, according to the AP.
Meanwhile, investigators in San Francisco are looking into the possibility that one of the 16-year-old Chinese girls killed in the crash died not from the crash itself but from “a secondary incident,” San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said. “One of the deceased did have injuries consistent with those of having been run over by a vehicle,” San Francisco Fire spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge told Reuters, adding, “Many agencies were on the field yesterday.” The autopsy is expected to be completed by Monday.
So while nobody has yet blamed human error for this crash and its casualties, one shouldn’t be surprised if that term starts occurring a lot more frequently in the coming days and weeks.