NTSB: Asiana Crash Looking Like Pilot Error

Top concern is slow speed during descent; still no sign of mechanical failure

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 12, 2013 7:19 AM CDT | Updated Jul 12, 2013 7:59 AM CDT

(Newser) – The continuing investigation into the crash of an Asiana Airlines plane still hasn't spotted any mechanical trouble—meaning it's likely that pilot mistakes were to blame for the disaster, Sky News reports. National Transportation Safety Board chair Deborah Hersman offered new information about investigators' findings, with concern centered on how pilots could have failed to notice their slow speed during landing, the AP reports.

  • Pilots said they believed the plane's "autothrottle" was controlling its speed, but while the device was "armed," it appears to have been set to idle.

  • When the plane's altitude was 500 feet, its airspeed was 134 knots—below the target of 137. A warning sounded; pilots recognized that they weren't aligned with the runway and tried to fix the problem.
  • By the time they'd reached 200 feet, their speed was just 118 knots; pilots are supposed to abort a landing if they're more than 5 knots below target. But they didn't mention speed at all between 500 and 100 feet, Hersman says.
  • "The first thing that's taught to a pilot is to look at the airspeed indicator. It is the most important instrument in the cockpit," says a longtime pilot. "There are a lot of very experienced airline pilots who are scratching their heads right now."
  • As for reports of blinding light, the issue doesn't appear to have affected the flight, USA Today reports.
  • Eleven minutes worth of of 911 calls have also been released, revealing the chaos in the immediate aftermath of the crash, Reuters reports. Some of the calls indicate that people near the end of the runway were left unattended as emergency responders initially stuck near the main crash area. Other callers reported not seeing emergency vehicles, but responders say that's because vehicles are not brought too close to the scene in an effort to avoid collisions—or the vehicles being caught in an explosion.
Surprised at how much information the NTSB is releasing? It is unusual, the Christian Science Monitor reports, and while some are praising the transparency, others fear it will lead to incorrect conclusions before the investigation is complete.

This image released by the National Transportation Safety Board on Thursday, July 11, 2013, shows the debris field on the runway from Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in San Francisco.
This image released by the National Transportation Safety Board on Thursday, July 11, 2013, shows the debris field on the runway from Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in San Francisco.   (AP Photo/NTSB)
This image released by the National Transportation Safety Board on Thursday, July 11, 2013, shows the charred remains of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in San Francisco.
This image released by the National Transportation Safety Board on Thursday, July 11, 2013, shows the charred remains of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in San Francisco.   (AP Photo/NTSB)
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