Asiana Airlines Flight 214 was traveling far below its target speed and crew members tried to abort the landing just seconds before the aircraft crashed into a runway at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday, federal officials said.
The target landing speed for the Boeing 777 is 137 knots (about 158 mph), but the plane was traveling "significantly" below that speed during its approach, said National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman during a press briefing on Sunday. She added a formal investigation has been launched to examine the performance of the crew and to determine whether equipment on the aircraft could have malfunctioned.
Hersman said it was too early to determine exactly how much the plane's speed had dipped below its target speed, but that it was a noticeable difference.
"We're not talking about a few knots here or there, we're talking about a significant amount of speed below 137 knots," Hersman said.
Asiana Airlines flight 214 moments after crashing.
The Boeing 777 airplane lies burned near the runway Saturday.
NTSB investigators examine the wreckage of Asiana Airlines flight 214 Sunday.
The detached tail and landing gear of Asiana flight 214 Saturday.
An NTSB agent photographs the Boeing 777 Sunday.
The plane was carrying more than 300 people on a flight from Seoul, South Korea, when it crashed, killing two of the passengers and injuring 181 others.
Two recorders recovered from the jetliner indicate a crew member called to increase the speed about seven seconds before impact. Three seconds later, the crew realized the aircraft was about to stall, and then called to initiate a "go-around" to abort the landing less than two seconds before it slammed into the runway. The plane's engines appeared to respond normally when the throttles advanced a few seconds before impact, Hersman said.
The NTSB's investigation will also look into whether there was any error made by the pilot, although Hersman said investigators will not reach a conclusion about probable cause for at least a few more days.
But an Asiana Airlines spokeswoman told The Los Angeles Times that the pilot flying the aircraft, Lee Kang-kook, was in training to fly the Boeing 777. Although he had been flying since 1994 and had nearly 10,000 hours of flight time, he had only logged about 43 hours flying the B777, said spokeswoman Lee Hyo-min.
An aerial view of the crash Saturday.
A United Airlines plane lands next to the wreckage of Asiana flight 214 Sunday.
An unidentified family member of one of two Chinese students killed in a crash of Asiana Airlines' plane on Saturday checks in to a flight to San Francisco Monday in Shanghai, China.
The flight's co-pilot, Lee Jung-min, has logged more than 12,000 flight hours and "had lots of experience with the B777," Hyo-min told The Los Angeles Times.
Hersman said the investigators will examine flight plans, the training and performance of the crew and will also interview survivors of the crash. She did not release information about the two fatalities, but Chinese state media identified them as two female students, according to BBC.
Ye Mengyuan, 16, and Wang Linjia, 17, were pronounced dead at the scene. But San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said officials were investigating whether one of the girls had been run over by a rescue vehicle. An autopsy is expected to be completed on Monday, according to USA Today.
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