By Sarah McBride and Hyunjoo Jin
SAN FRANCISCO/SEOUL, July 8 The pilot of the
crashed Asiana plane at San Francisco airport was still "in
training" for the Boeing 777 when he attempted to land the
aircraft under supervision on Saturday, the South Korean airline
Lee Kang-kuk, whose anglicised name was released for the
first time on Monday and differed slightly from earlier usage,
was the second most junior pilot of four on board the Asiana
Airlines aircraft and had 43 hours' experience
flying the long-range jet, the airline said on Monday.
The plane's crew tried to abort the descent less than two
seconds before it hit a seawall on the landing approach to the
airport, bounced along the tarmac and burst into flames.
It was Lee's first attempt to land a 777 at San Francisco,
although he had flown there 29 times previously on different
types of aircraft, said South Korean transport ministry official
Choi Seung-youn. Earlier, the ministry said he had accumulated a
total of 9,793 flying hours, including his 43 at the controls of
Two teenage Chinese girls on their way to summer camp in the
United States were killed and more than 180 injured in the
crash, the first fatal accident involving the Boeing 777 since
it entered service in 1995.
The plane crashed after the crew tried to abort the landing
with less than two seconds to go, according to the U.S. National
Transportation Safety Board on Sunday.
Asiana said Lee Kang-kuk was in the pilot seat during the
landing, although it was not clear whether the senior pilot, Lee
Jung-min, who had clocked up 3,220 hours on a Boeing 777, had
tried to take over to abort the landing.
"It's a training that is common in the global aviation
industry. All responsibilities lie with the instructor captain,"
Yoon Young-doo, the president and CEO of the airline, told a
news conference on Monday at the company headquarters.
Information collected from the plane's cockpit voice
recorder and flight data recorder indicated that there were no
signs of trouble until seven seconds before impact, when the
crew tried to accelerate, NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman told
reporters at San Francisco airport on Sunday.
A stall warning, in which the cockpit controls begin to
shake, activated four seconds before impact, and the crew tried
to abort the landing and initiate what is known as a "go around"
maneuver 1.5 seconds before crashing, Hersman said.
"Air speed was significantly below the target air speed" of
137 knots, she said. The throttle was set at idle as the plane
approached the airport and the engines appeared to respond
normally when the crew tried to gain speed in the seconds before
the crash, Hersman added.
In a tragic new twist, the San Francisco Fire Department
said that one of the Chinese teenagers may have been run over by
an emergency vehicle as first responders scrambled to the scene.
"One of the deceased did have injuries consistent with those
of having been run over by a vehicle," fire department
spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said.
The two, Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia, were classmates and
friends from the same middle school in Quzhou, in the prosperous
eastern coastal province of Zhejiang, and had been going to the
United States to attend summer camp.
Ye, 16, had an easy smile, was an active member of the
student council and had a passion for biology, the Beijing News
"Responsible, attentive, pretty, intelligent," were the
words written about her on a recent school report, it added.
Wang, a year older than Ye, was also known as a good student
and was head of her class, the newspaper said.
The two girls were among a group of 30 students and five
teachers from Jiangshan Middle School on their way to attend the
summer camp, the official Xinhua news agency said.
More than 30 people remained hospitalised late on Sunday.
Eight were listed in critical condition, including two with
paralysis from spinal injuries, according to hospital officials.
The charred hulk of the aircraft remained on the airport
tarmac as flight operations gradually returned to normal. Three
of the four runways were operating by Sunday afternoon.
Hersman said it was too early to speculate on the cause of
the crash. The data recorders corroborated witness accounts and
an amateur video, shown by CNN, that indicated the plane came in
too low, lifted its nose in an attempt to gain altitude, and
then bounced violently along the tarmac after the rear of the
aircraft clipped a seawall at the approach to the runway.
Asked whether the information reviewed by the NTSB showed
pilot error in the crash, Hersman did not answer directly.
"What I will tell you is that the NTSB conducts very
thorough investigations. We will not reach a determination of
probable cause in the first few days that we're on an accident
scene," she told reporters.
Asiana said mechanical failure did not appear to be a
factor. Hersman confirmed that a part of the airport's
instrument-landing system was offline on Saturday as part of a
scheduled runway construction project, but cautioned against
drawing conclusions from that.
"You do not need instruments to get into the airport," she
said, noting that the weather was good at the time of the crash
and the plane had been cleared for a visual approach.
The Asiana flight was flying to San Francisco from Seoul
with 291 passengers and 16 crew members on board. Several large
groups of Chinese students were among the passengers.
The passengers included 141 Chinese, 77 South Koreans, 64
Americans, three Indians, three Canadians, one French, one
Vietnamese and one Japanese citizen.
SERIOUS INTERIOR DAMAGE
People on the flight said nothing seemed amiss until moments
before the crash. Pictures taken by survivors showed passengers
hurrying out of the wrecked plane, some on evacuation slides.
Thick smoke billowed from the fuselage and TV footage showed the
aircraft gutted by fire. Much of its roof was gone.
Interior damage to the plane also was extreme, Hersman said
on CNN earlier on Sunday.
"You can see the devastation from the outside of the
aircraft, the burn-through, the damage to the external
fuselage," she said. "But what you can't see is the damage
internally. That is really striking."
The NTSB released photos showing the wrecked interior cabin
with oxygen masks dangling from the ceiling.
Hersman said the first emergency workers to arrive at the
scene included 23 people in nine vehicles. San Francisco Mayor
Ed Lee said a total of 225 first responders were involved.
"As chaotic as the site was yesterday, I think a number of
miracles occurred to save many more lives," Lee said at the
airport news conference. Appearing later at San Francisco
General Hospital, he declined to address whether one of the
Chinese teenagers may have been run over.
It was the first fatal commercial airline accident in the
United States since a regional plane operated by Colgan Air
crashed in New York in 2009.
Asiana, South Korea's junior carrier, has had two other
fatal crashes in its 25-year history.