At 2:30 p.m. ET July 6, Asiana Airlines flight 214 from Seoul, South Korea crashed on the San Francisco International Airport runway 28 while landing behind Terminal 2 after a 10 1/2 hour flight. Passengers aboard the Boeing 777 from South Korea heard “a pop” followed by flames and smoke.
The “flying pilot” of the plane was halfway to completion of his Boeing 777 training, making his first flight across the Pacific Ocean with his “instructor pilot” in the cockpit seated next to him.
Coming in at 40,000 miles above sea level, pilots made adjustments, as they were too high. Four minutes before impact, the plane was cleared to land. With a mile and a half to go, the Boeing 777’s automatic functions controlling key factors such as airspeed were being utilized. Deborah Hersman, head of the National Transportation Safety Board team investigating the accident. Hersman announced in a press conference, “We need to understand what those modes were: If they were commanded by the pilots, if they were activated inadvertently, and if the pilots knew what they were doing.” The NTSB emphasized that there are two pilots in the cockpit for that reason. Pilots still have a great deal of responsibility. It is essential for pilots to constantly be checking that the functions are working properly.
Using auto throttle to regulate speed, the aircraft was set to the recommended speed or 137 knots or 157 mph when approaching the runway. At 200 feet the pilot saw the plane was not properly aligning with the runway’s lights. Realizing the auto throttles were unable to maintain the proper speed, the pilot pushed the throttles forward in order to abort the landing and try again after circling around.
Those on the ground were warned there was some sort of problem on the plane. “Emergency vehicles are responding… we have everyone on their way,” air traffic controllers told the pilots before the plane touched down.
Flying too low and slow, the pilots were unable to recover before it was too late. Although unable to be explained by authorities, one pilot’s sight was affected by a flash of light. Upon impact, the aircraft’s landing gear hit the seawall before spinning 360 degrees as pieces of the plane flew off and ejected three flight attendants.
When the plane came to a stop, air traffic control told the flight crew not to evacuate. Passengers heard an announcement from the pilots instructing them to stay in their seats until ordered otherwise when a flight attendant noticed the plane had ignited due to a ruptured and leaked oil tank on the engine. Gray smoke billowed as the plane lay on the runway.
Passenger, Elliot Stone, told CNN the plane was approaching the runway “a little high (then came) down a little sharp.” He said, “All of the sudden, boom, the back end just hit and flies up into the air and everyone’s head goes up the ceiling.” Stone jumped out of the plane shortly after without using the stairs or evacuation slides.
The Boeing 777 is designed to be capable of complete evacuation within 90 seconds. Between the time the plane stopped and the time it was evacuated, this time was doubled due to delayed instruction to evacuate. Emergency responders were at the scene within two minutes.
Two 16-year-old girls from China coming to visit Stanford University and attend a summer camp were ejected from the plane and killed. The San Francisco Police Department is currently investigating whether one of the girls was killed on impact or from being run over by a vehicle. Next to an evacuation slide her body was found with injuries that appeared to be consistent with being run over by an emergency vehicle. Tires from the vehicles that responded to the crash are being investigated.
An Asiana Airlines spokesperson told CNN that the aircraft carried 291 passengers along with 16 staff members on board. The latest report claims two passengers dead and 182 injured, 49 of which were critically injured. San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara hospitals have been treating injured passengers for fractures, road rash, and internal injuries.
In a statement to ABCNews.com the company said, “Boeing extends its concern for the safety of those on board Asiana Airlines Flight 214. Boeing is preparing to provide technical assistance to the National Transportation Safety Board as it investigates the accident.”