SAN FRANCISCO // Officials investigating a jetliner crash in San Francisco have determined that Asiana Airlines flight 214 was travelling "significantly below" the target speed during its approach and that the crew tried to abort the landing just before it smashed onto the runway.
A day after the jetliner crash landed in San Francisco, killing two people and sending more than 180 to hospitals, officials said the probe was also focusing on whether the airport or plane's equipment could have also malfunctioned.
The South Korea government announced yesterday that officials would inspect engines and landing equipment on all Boeing 777 planes owned by Asiana and Korean Air, the national carrier.
The San Mateo County coroner Robert Foucrault said on Sunday that he was investigating whether one of the two teenage passengers killed actually survived the crash but was run over by a rescue vehicle rushing to the burning aircraft. Remarkably, 305 of 307 passengers and crew survived the crash and more than a third did not even require hospitalisation.
Investigators said that the weather was unusually fair for foggy San Francisco. The pilots never discussed having any problems with the plane or its positioning until it was too late.
Seven seconds before the Boeing 777 struck down, a member of the flight crew made a call to increase the jet's lagging speed, the National Transportation Safety Board chief Deborah Hersman said at a briefing based on the plane's cockpit and flight data recorders. Three seconds later came a warning that the engines were about to stall.
Two-and-a-half seconds later, the crew attempted to abort the landing and go back up for another try. While US and South Korea officials are in the early stages of an investigation that will include a weeks-long examination of the wreckage and alcohol tests for the crew, the news confirmed what survivors and other witnesses had reported: a slow-moving airliner flying low to the ground.
"We are not talking about a few knots" difference between the aircraft's target landing speed of 137 knots per hour, or 254 kilometre s per hour, and how fast it was going as it came in for a landing, Ms Hersman said.
Asiana spokeswoman Lee Hyomin said that the pilot at the controls, Lee Gang-guk, had nearly 10,000 hours flying other planes but only 43 in the 777, a plane she said he still was getting used to flying. Another pilot on the flight, Lee Jeong-min, had about 12,390 hours of flying experience, including 3,220 hours on the 777, according to South Korea's ministry of land, infrastructure and transport. Two other pilots were aboard, with teams rotating at the controls.
In the first comments on the crash by a crew member, cabin manager Lee Yoon-hye said that seconds before impact she felt that something was wrong.
"Right before touchdown, I felt like the plane was trying to take off. I was thinking 'what's happening?' and then I felt a bang," Ms Lee told reporters. "That bang felt harder than a normal landing. It was a very big shock. Afterward, there was another shock and the plane swayed to the right and to the left."
She said that during the evacuation, two inflatable slides that were supposed to inflate toward the outside, inflated toward the inside of the plane, hurting two flight attendants. Pilots came to rescue the flight attendants but even after getting injured, she said the crew did not leave the plane until after the passengers evacuated.
Hospital officials said on Sunday that two of the people who remained hospitalised in critical condition were paralysed with spinal injuries.
The flight originated in Shanghai, China, and stopped over in Seoul, South Korea, before making the nearly 11-hour trip to San Francisco.