Nation & World News

Asiana Flight 214: Both Pilots Were Well-Rested, The NTSB Says

By Bill Chappell on July 11th, 2013

The two main pilots on Asiana Airlines Flight 214, the jetliner that crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday, had each gotten eight hours of sleep the night before their trip to San Francisco, says the National Transportation Safety Board.

The agency’s chief, Deborah Hersman, provided that information and other updates to the media and the public on the investigation into the crash that killed two passengers and injured dozens.

Here are details from today’s briefing:

The flying pilot had the day off before the flight began. He says he got eight hours of sleep, and came to the airport six hours before the flight. He was in the cockpit about 30 minutes before the trip began.

The instructor pilot also says he had eight hours of sleep, and spent some time relaxing with his family. He came to the airport at 2:20 p.m.

In the cockpit, the two main pilots worked about 4 hours and 15 minutes, and then the relief crew of another two pilots took over for the middle of the flight. The original two pilots came back for the final hour and a half of the trip.

The flying pilot says that he saw a flash of bright light that temporarily blinded him, at around 400 or 500 feet. Hersman says they’re looking into possible causes.

Update at 5:55 p.m. ET:

Hersman goes over where the 12 flight attendants were sitting. The flight attendant who was leading the crew was at the front. Two attendants were pinned by one or more emergency ramps; both were hospitalized, one with a broken bone in her leg.

In a briefing Tuesday, Hersman said flight attendants had been ejected from the plane. She speaks more about that today; she also clarifies that all passenger seating remained on the aircraft.

The seat belts in business class had both shoulder and lap belts, Hersman says. Passengers in the rear cabin had lap belts only.

The first emergency response teams arrived at the scene within five minutes.

The flight attendants say they directed passengers to exits that seemed most efficient; they also tried to fight fires, and worked to free those who had been pinned.

Hersman says investigators have not yet spoken to all the flight attendants, especially those who remain in the hospital. They are also hoping to speak to any passengers who wish to talk.

“The NTSB will likely be releasing the runway” in the next 24 hours, and possibly tonight, Hersman says.

Update at 5:40 p.m. ET: On Automation And Plane’s Approach

Referring to a slideshow of the plane’s approach to the airport over the water, Hersman describes how the plane came in.

At 11:26, Asiana 214 checked in for final approach, and did not get an immediate reply. They soon checked in again, and were given a landing clearance — when the plane “was about a mile-and-a-half from the threshold,” Hersman says.

The evidence shows that “in the last two and a half minutes of the flight,” there were multiple modes enabled of auto-pilot and auto-throttle, Hersman says.

Our original post continues:

Of airliners’ automatic systems, Hersman says “They can be simple, or they can be sophisticated.”

In the Boeing 777’s case, they’re sophisticated, she says. But she adds that pilots can fly by hand, taking off, traveling and landing without any automation if they choose.

On the other hand, “You can have limited visibility — you can not be able to approach the airport in visible conditions — and the airplane can land itself.”

She says that automation “can help maintain a level of safety and efficiency in the cockpit,” noting that the systems can conserve fuel.

“Pilots are trained to monitor,” Hersman says. And they designate between two pilots, with one flying and one monitoring.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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