Details released of Asiana’s fatally slow descent

Federal investigators hope interviews set for later Monday with the pilots of Asiana Flight 214 will explain why the Boeing 777 was going so slow when it slammed into the end of the runway.

Investigators earlier Monday provided specifics of the plane’s altitude and “below target” airspeed as it approached runway 28L at San Francisco International Airport Saturday.

Deborah Hersman — the head of the National Transportation Safety Board — said the Boeing 777’s airspeed was 106 knots, or about 122 miles per hour, when it crashed.

She again described the aircraft’s speed as “significantly below” the minimum speed of 137 knots, or about 158 miles per hour, the Boeing 777 should be maintaining when landing.

Hersman reiterated that audio from the cockpit’s voice recorder had captured the voice of one of the pilot’s “calling out” for a “go-around” just 1.5 seconds before the crash, but clarified it was one of the pilot’s saying to the other to abort the landing, not a call to the control tower:

“There was  a call for a go-around.  That means they wanted to abort the landing.”

The voice recorder also recorded one of the crew members calling for more speed seven seconds before the crash, while flight data recorder showed the the aircraft’s speed was increasing at the time of the impact.

Hersman declined to speculate why the plane might have been travelling below the minimum air speed saying:

“We want the crew to provide that information. We don’t want to influence the responses.”

She declined to confirm that the pilot of the plane, identified as Lee Kang-Kuk, had just 43 hours of experience in piloting  a 777. She did, though, acknowledge Lee was still undergoing training in flying the aircraft:

“It was a captain who was working on his  initial operating experience in a triple-7. He was an experienced pilot and prior captain, but he was working on getting his rating on a triple- 7, and getting  initial operating experience in a triple-7.  He was flying with a check captain, or a training captain.”

Asiana has said Lee had 9,000 hours of flight time in other aircraft, and was accompanied by an experienced trainer, who acted as co-pilot, at the time of the crash.

Because of the travel time and distance from its original departure city of Shanghai, China, and with a stop in Seoul, South Korea, there were four pilots assigned to fly the plane. There were also crew quarters so that crew members could rest during the flight.

Hersman says investigators would be looking at the rest periods of the crew and other factors, such as possible medical issues, to see if any other factors may have had impacted the pilot’s performance.

She would not speculate on reports that one of the two girls killed in the crash had been hit by a firetruck responding to the burning plane, saying the San Mateo County coroner would rule on the cause of death.