WASHINGTON — A daylong hearing Wednesday into the July 6 Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco raised broad questions about the adequacy of pilot training and deteriorating skill in an era of growing reliance on computer-controlled flight.
Arriving from Seoul, Asiana Flight 214 struck a sea wall at San Francisco International Airport and slammed onto the runway, severing its tail section and scattering wreckage across the airfield before the body of the plane erupted in flames. Three passengers were killed and 180 injured.
With testimony from 20 witnesses, the hearing in Washington focused intensely on the impact of automated flight systems on pilot performance, as well as the training of Asiana pilots, safety of the passenger cabin and the emergency response to the scene.
Lee Kang Kuk, 46, who was landing a Boeing 777, told investigators the approach to the landing was "very stressful" and he mistakenly thought an automatic throttle was controlling the plane's airspeed.
Despite flying with an instructor and having experience in other aircraft, Lee said he was "very concerned" about his ability to land the 300-passenger plane manually, without the landing aid known as a glide slope indicator, according to an NTSB report released Wednesday. Other pilots in the cockpit told investigators Lee appeared nervous during the descent.
Investigators initially concluded that the pilots failed to maintain the minimum speed and altitude required for a safe landing, but a decision on the official cause of the crash hasn't been made by the safety agency.
Asiana officials said Wednesday the airline's pilots are well qualified to make landings with or without computerized aids.
But investigators reported that Asiana pilots had little opportunity to practice manual landings except in simulators, and were highly resistant to making those type of airport approaches without automated systems, especially in the Boeing 777.
Asiana Airlines released a statement after the hearing saying that the NTSB investigation would "undoubtedly help the aviation community learn from the incident."
“We at Asiana again express our sorrow for the loss of life and the injuries sustained in the accident, and restate our commitment to taking the steps necessary to ensure that such an accident never happens again," the airline said.
NTSB Chairwoman Deborah A. P. Hersman said the inquiry could lead to new recommendations for pilot training and aircraft design.
"When we have accidents, we have to learn from them," she said during a news conference.
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times