Nearly a year after Asiana Flight 214 crashed while landing in San Francisco, the National Transportation Safety Board is meeting to determine what went wrong, who’s to blame and how to prevent future accidents.
Among the issues raised by the crash of the South Korean airliner are some that long have concerned aviation officials, including hesitancy by some pilots to abort a landing when things go awry or to challenge a captain’s actions.
Other issues include an over-reliance on automated controls that perform functions like maintaining airspeed, and the growing complexity of automated systems, which can confuse pilots.
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The irony of the accident is that it occurred at all. Three experienced pilots were in the cockpit on July 6. The plane, a Boeing 777, had one of the industry’s best safety records. And weather conditions that sunny day were near perfect.
But the wide-bodied jetliner with 307 people on board was too low and too slow during the landing. It struck a seawall just short of the runway, ripping off the tail and sending the rest of the plane spinning and skidding down the runway.
When the shattered plane came to rest, a fire erupted.
Despite the violence of the crash, only three people were killed. Chinese teens seated in the back who may not have been wearing their seatbelts and were thrown from the plane.
One of the teenage girls survived the crash but was run over by two rescue vehicles in the chaos afterward. Nearly 200 people were injured.
In documents made public by the safety board, Asiana acknowledged the likely cause of the accident was the crew’s failure to monitor and maintain the plane’s airspeed, and its failure to abort the landing when in trouble.
The airline said the pilot and co-pilot reasonably believed the automatic throttle would keep the plane flying fast enough to land safely, when in fact the auto throttle was effectively shut off after the pilot idled it to correct an unexplained climb earlier in the landing.
Asiana said the plane should have been designed so that the auto throttle would maintain the proper speed after the pilot put it in “hold mode.”
Boeing had been warned about the problem by US and European aviation regulators.
Asiana urged the safety board to recommend that the aircraft maker be required to include an audible warning to alert pilots when the throttle changed to a setting in which it no longer is maintaining speed.