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NTSB: Asiana pilots delayed evacuating plane after crash

By Steven Luo July 11, 2013 No Comments Print Share

Investigators examine the landing gear of the crashed plane at SFO Tuesday. (Steven Luo / CALIFORNIA BEAT)

The pilots of Asiana Airlines flight 214, which crashed at SFO Saturday morning, initially told cabin crew not to evacuate after the Boeing 777 slid to a stop, NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman told reporters Wednesday.

It was not until flight attendants farther back on the plane informed the flight crew of a fire outside the aircraft that the order to evacuate was given, resulting in a delay of 90 seconds between the plane stopping and the doors of the plane opening, Hersman said.

Hersman confirmed that some of the emergency escape slides, which are only supposed to deploy when the doors they are attached to open, inflated inside the cabin when the plane struck the ground a second time during landing. It is “unknown at this time” why this happened, she said.

Pilots’ usage of automation under scrutiny

Hersman said the flight data recorder showed “multiple autopilot modes” and “multiple autothrottle modes” active in the last two and a half minutes of the flight. Calling the 777’s autoflight systems “very sophisticated,” she said the NTSB would need to work to understand all the modes, whether the pilots understood them, and whether the changes were made intentionally or accidentally.

Automation “can be very helpful to pilots,” decreasing their workload and increasing efficiency, but does not absolve the pilots from the responsibility to monitor the plane, Hersman said. “There are two pilots in the cockpit for a reason,” she said.

A third pilot in the cockpit did warn that the plane’s rate of descent was too high during the approach, Hersman said. She said the NTSB needed to do more work to understand the working relationship between that pilot and the two more senior pilots at the controls — a captain with 9,700 flight hours who was new to the 777 and a check captain with 13,000 hours flying his first trip as an instructor.

Hersman also said the NTSB was looking into the pilot flying’s statement that a flash of light temporarily blinded him while the plane was about 500 feet off the ground.

Runway cleanup could begin as soon as Thursday

Hersman noted that the NTSB’s documentation of the crash site could be complete as soon as Wednesday evening, allowing salvage, cleanup and repair operations on SFO’s runway 28L to begin. It would be “up to the airport” to complete that work and decide when to reopen the runway, she said.

Reopening runway 28L — one of two runways typically used for arrivals at SFO — would provide welcome relief for travellers, who have been experiencing flight delays up to three hours due to the runway’s closure.

Contact Steven Luo at sluo@californiabeat.org.

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