Fatal Air Crash
A Boeing 777 operated by Asiana Airlines was destroyed, with two fatalities and numerous serious injuries, after crashing into the seawall at the approach end of the San Francisco’s Runway 28 Left (28L). The flight had originated in Beijing, and made a stopover at the airport in Seoul, Korea (where Asiana is based), before continuing a flight of roughly ten hours and twenty minutes to San Francisco. Weather conditions at SFO were not a factor, and Visual Approaches were being flown.
The primary cause appears to be centering on a loss of airspeed. One explanation for this occurrence is the possibility that the flight crew had armed — but did not actually activate — the auto-throttle, then failed to notice the gradual speed reduction.
Data on FlightAware indicates that ATC turned the 777 onto a long final, roughly 17-miles from the runway end, and at an elevation of 4,700′. Tabulated groundspeeds appear normal until the last minute of flight, when the speed rapidly decayed to 118-knots, well below the target airspeed of 137-knots. NTSB interviews and a review of the ATC tapes shows the flight crew recognized the deficient airspeed and promptly added power and reported a go-around. The engines did respond (which seemingly discounts a theory of any engine problems), but the pilot actions were too late and the aircraft was too low to the ground. Just seconds later, the stick shaker activated and a stall commenced at about the moment of impact.
Upon impacting the seawall, the tail assembly separated from the fuselage. Passengers reported the fuselage nose was suddenly jerked upward. At least one news article reported crash victims with paralysis due to spinal cord fractures. The debris field indicates that the tail section and landing gear came to rest on the runway, and the fuselage/wing portion remained upright and made a flat spin roughly 360-degrees before stopping in the grass strip to the left of Runway 28L. Two flight attendants seated at the rear of the fuselage were reportedly ejected, and both were seriously injured during the crash. A fire began at the right (number two) engine. All passengers were able to evacuate, but reports indicate many were temporarily trapped; ground emergency responders provided knives to help cut people free from their seats. At least one chute deployed into (not out from) the cabin, temporarily pinning at least one person.
There were witnesses close by. A United Boeing 747 was waiting adjacent to the approach end of Runway 28L. The flight crew and those passengers looking out the cabin windows saw the rapid disintegration and developing fire, just 300-feet from their seats.
NTSB has drawn criticism from various aviation groups for being very open in the release of information. NTSB has been very clear to state that their service is to the larger public first, and their mission of transparency includes sharing information as it is gathered. NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman has also repeatedly emphasized that the information is all tentative, and the final conclusions will only be produced after a more thorough analysis. From the perspective of a citizen with concerns about past efforts by FAA to conceal aviation failures, this level of transparency is outstanding. It empowers all of us to participate within a broader safety culture, and it helps restore faith in government (which has become so horribly damaged in recent years).
Here are links to some of the articles:
Includes a timeline, video images (by witnesses), NTSB photos, and links to other articles.
An aiREFORM.com page connecting the Asiana 214 accident back to the KAL801 accident that killed 228 in 1997, and suggested how dangerous TV’s and other distractions might be, in the ATC workplace. Also includes a compilation of pilot comments discussing CRM training (did it work, or did it fail?) and the possible contribution of cultural ‘obedience’ toward higher aviation accident rates.
Discusses possibility that the auto-throttle was armed but not activated. Notes the two Chinese girls who were killed sat in the back row, and both had begged their parents to come on this extended school tour of the U.S. Also discusses the ALPA concerns about NTSB openness, and NTSB’s position in favor of maximum transparency.
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UPDATE: — A third victim has been identified. Reports indicate she was a student at the same school as the other victims, from a Chinese school group on a tour to the U.S. She had been hospitalized in critical condition after the accident. This article also includes a photograph taken while the fuselage was being transported to storage; the photo shows the intense fire damage after the evacuation.