NTSB reveals Asiana flight 214 more than 30 knots slower than expected at crash point


The fuselage of Asiana Flight 214, which crashed July 6, 2013, remains at San Francisco Airport as the investigation into the cause continues. (Photo courtesy of the National Transportation Security Board via Wikimedia Commons.)

The National Transportation Safety Board on Monday revealed that Asiana Airlines Flight 214 was going just 103 knots moments before it appears to have crashed into a sea wall at the edge of the runway at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday.

The target speed for a plane of that size, a Boeing 777, is 137 knots. NTSB officials have said they are in the middle of a thorough investigation of the crash, which killed two people and wonded more than 100 people, and declined to speculate on why the plane was travelling so much more slowly that in should been.

NTSB teams will review physical, video and data evidence to better understand the circumstances surrounding the crash and put those lessons back into improving airplane design and airline procedures, NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman during a press conference on Monday.

The data also revealed the plane executed a speed increase to 106 knots immediately before the crash — perhaps indicating the pilots became aware they were too low or too slow immediately before impact. Both engines were producing power at the time of impact, the NTSB said.

In addition, Hersman confirmed what many have long suspected — that the two fatalaties, two Chinese teenage girls, were seated in the back of the plane, which seems to have suffered most of the damage.

NTSB officials also detailed the position of key pieces of debris, including part of the tailcone in the water off the runway, seeming to indicate it may have struck the sea wall and fallen away from the plane, which then contacted the runway — leaving a trail of debris in its wake.

Officials said they would interview all four pilots from the flight on Monday, including one who's experience was mostly flying the larger, and older Boeing 747. He had yet to obtain his rating with 777s, and was accompanied by a training captain in the cockpit.

The pilots spoke both Korean and English, according to the cockpit voice recorder, but the NTSB said language was not a contributing factor to the crash. English is the universal language for aviation pilots, who must be able to communicate with air traffic control operators. 

The NTSB said a transcript of the conversation would eventually be made public. 

In an earlier press conference Monday morning, San Francisco fire officials confirmed that they were investigating whether one of their responding fire engines may have run over one of the two women who died in the crash. San Francisco Fire Department Airport Deputy Chief Dale Carnes said firefighters on scene quickly became aware of the possibility and notified the San Francisco and FBI. The fire department is cooperating with the police and the FBI as they investigate whether the woman died in the crash, or, and if, she died from being run over.

Hersman said the NTSB viewed that possibility as "very serious" and said they were looking into the possibility. 

"We need to conduct additional interview and let coroners do their work," she said.

Media reports in the past day have been filled with reports of emergency exit slides that mistakenly opened in the plane, rather than after a door was opened. Hersman said investigators had seen those reports and also heard as much in interviews with the flight crew. She said investigators would look into whether there was a malfunction that should be addressed.