San Francisco: The focus of the probe into Asiana Flight 214 switched squarely to the pilots after investigators found no evidence of mechanical problems, the head of the US National Transportation Safety Board said.
In her final briefing before the agency concluded its on-site detective work, NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said yesterday the airplane showed no signs of a breakdown, and on voice recorders, the pilots of the Boeing 777 fail to notice that their approach is dangerously low and slow until it`s too late.
"There is no mention of speed until about nine seconds before impact, when they`re at 100 feet," she said yesterday. Just seconds before impact, two of the pilots call for the landing to be aborted.
Investigators have stressed that nothing has been definitively ruled out and no firm conclusions reached. The agency`s final evaluation is expected to take more than a year.
The jet itself, though heavily damaged, had no malfunctions in any critical systems, including the engines and flight-control surfaces, the autopilot, the autothrottles and the flight director, Hersman said.
Two Chinese teens were killed and 180 of the 307 people on board were hurt Saturday when the airliner slammed into a seawall at the end of the runway. The impact ripped off the back of the plane, tossed out three flight attendants and scattered pieces of the jet across the runway as it spun and skidded to a stop.
The battered passengers, some with broken bones, were told over the jet`s public address system to stay in their seats for another 90 seconds while the cockpit consulted with the control tower, a safety procedure to prevent people from evacuating into life-threatening fires or machinery.
Authorities are investigating whether one of the two teens who died may have been run over by a fire truck rushing to the burning jet.
The Federal Aviation Administration has found "no significant issues" during 134 unannounced mechanical, pilot or avionic checks on Aviana airliners over the last 18 months, Hersman said.
She has said that pilots Lee Gang-kuk, who was landing the jet for his first time at the San Francisco airport, and Lee Jeong-Min, who was training him, were ultimately responsible for a safe landing.
While the pilots were manually flying the jet for the landing, as expected on a clear, sunny day, they told investigators they thought the airliner`s speed was being controlled by an autothrottle set for 157 mph (252 kph).