Pilot who crashed at SFO worried about landing

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 11, 2013 at 7:21 pm •  Published: December 11, 2013

The case will probably force foreign airlines to examine their cockpit culture, said Tom Anthony, director of the aviation safety program at the University of Southern California.

The U.S. went through that process decades ago and shook off a "captain-as-overlord" culture, he said, and now some Asian airlines will have to make sure their training encourages even junior pilots to speak up.

Asiana representatives at the hearing did not immediately respond to questions from The Associated Press.

Lee insisted in interviews that he had been blinded during a critical instant before the botched landing by a piercing light from outside the aircraft. NTSB investigators repeatedly asked about the light, but he was unable to pinpoint its origin or how it precisely affected him.

Asked whether he wore sunglasses in the cockpit, Lee said he did not "because it would have been considered impolite to wear them when he was flying with his" instructor. The instructor pilot told investigators he never saw a bright light outside the aircraft.

Recordings from the cockpit show Lee took the controls about 1,500 feet above San Francisco Bay.

The plane's first officer, Bong Don Won, told NTSB investigators that as the plane started its descent, he noticed its "sink rate" was too rapid. He said that he said nothing at that point, but as the plane's altitude dropped below 1,000 feet, he advised the crew four times about the rapid descent. The cockpit recorder showed no response from the others, though the first officer said the pilot deployed the plane's flaps, which appeared to slow the descent.

The crew did not comment again on the jet's low approach until it reached 200 feet above the ground, according to a transcript of the plane's cockpit voice recording.

Lee conceded to investigators that he was worried about his unfamiliarity with the 777's autoflight systems. He admitted he had not studied the systems well and thought the plane's autothrottle was supposed to prevent the jet from flying below minimum speed as it drew near the runway.

NTSB investigators also raised concerns about a safety certification issue involving the design of the 777's controls, warning that the plane's protection against stalling does not always automatically engage.

When the plane's autothrottle is placed in a "hold" mode, as it was during the Asiana flight, it is supposed to re-engage or "wake up" when the plane slows to its minimum airspeed.

Boeing's chief of flight deck engineering, Bob Myers, testified that the company designed the automated system to aid — not replace — the pilot. If there's a surprise, he said, "we expect them to back off on the automation" and rely on their basic skills.

Boeing evacuation engineer Bruce Wallace testified that at least one, if not two, of the passengers who died did not have seat belts on.

Wallace also said inflatable rafts deployed inside the jet, pinning at least one flight attendant in the wreckage. Engineers had never seen that happen before and were looking at safety improvements.

One of the three fatalities was a teenage girl from China who survived the crash but become covered in firefighting foam and got hit by an emergency vehicle on the runway.

Documents released Wednesday revealed that Ye Meng Yuan was struck twice — once by a fire rig spraying foam and again 11 minutes later by a second truck that was turning around to fetch water.


Follow Martha Mendoza at https://twitter.com/mendozamartha .


Mendoza reported from San Jose, Calif. Associated Press Airlines Writer David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.

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