The head of the National Transportation Safety Board described a horrifying experience for two flight attendants and more than 300 passengers and crew on board Asiana Flight 214 that crashed Saturday at San Francisco International Airport.
NTSB chair Deborah Hersman says the Boeing 777 slammed into the seawall as it approached the runway, snapping off the tail of the jet and throwing two flight attendants from the plane onto the runway.
Hersman said during Tuesday’s press conference:
“Two of the flight attendants in the rear of the aircraft were ejected from the aircraft during the impact sequence. They were found down the runway, and off to the side of the runway.”
Both flight attendants were hurt, but survived. Hersman did not reveal the extent of their injuries.
Two teenage girls were killed in the crash and dozens were hurt. As of Tuesday, officials say 20 people remain hospitalized.
As the jetliner came in for its landing, the tail landing gear first hit the rocky seawall, followed by the tail of the plane, Hersman said.
The impact broke off the tail of the massive jet, sending the fuselage careening down runway 28L before the flaming wreckage came to a halt in a grassy area between two runways.
The crash left a debris field of parts and personal items from the seawall to the plane’s final resting spot. Hersman said investigators were documenting the debris left behind from the skidding plane:
“When you get down to the seawall you can identify where the first strikes took place. First the main landing gear impacted the seawall then the tail. You can see pieces of the cabin, sections of the cabin. They’re found very early on in the debris field. You can see aircraft parts, galley materials, newspapers, magazines and flooring.”
When the plane did come to a halt, crew members worked on getting passengers out of the jetliner.
But the escape was hampered when at least one of the escape slides inflated inside the plane. A flight attendant was trapped by a deployed slide.
Investigators had not determined yet how many slides had deployed inside the plane, and if they had malfunctioned, or if they were inadvertently inflated inside the aircraft by the crew.
With investigators saying previously that the massive jet was going too slowly for landing, and questions swirling about the experience of the pilots landing the jet, Hersman also revealed details of how long the pilots had been flying.
Hersman says there were four pilots assigned to fly the plane from its origin in Shanghai, China, to Seoul, South Korea, then on to San Francisco.
At the time of the crash the pilot flying the plane, or in the “left seat” had completed 10 legs, or about 35 hours flying a Boeing 777. The “instructor pilot,” or pilot on the “right” seat, was on his first trip as an instructor.
The pilot flying the plane, Lee Kang-Kuk, had accumulated about 9,700 hours in the air according to information gathered during interviews with NTSB investigators. Lee Kang-Kuk had been hired by Asiana Airlines in 1994 and was “rated” to fly a 747 and other aircraft.
Lee Jung-Min, the pilot responsible for instructing him had about 13,000 hours of flying time, with about 3,000 hours flying a Boeing 777. There was also a third pilot in the “jump seat” of the cockpit..
With clear skies at the time of the crash, and no apparent engine problems reported, speculation continues to mount that pilot error led to the crash.
Still, Hersman urged caution in concluding what caused the crash:
“We will not determine probable cause while we are here on scene. That will come after we have collected all the information and analyzed it. I would really encourage all of you to be very cautious in speculating on the cause of the crash.”