Five Minutes Before Crash
The Boeing 777 was making its final descent into San Francisco International Airport (SFO) after an over 10-hour flight from Seoul, South Korea. At this stage, nothing suggests that anything was wrong with the aircraft or anything was out of the ordinary in the behavior of the flight crew.
It is worth noting, however, that the glide slope indicator at San Francisco International Airport was offline due to maintenance. A glide slope indicator is a piece of equipment that pilots can elect to use to show them the altitude of the plane during its approach to land. NTSB officials are uncertain whether this played a role in the crash, as chair of the NTSB Deborah Hersman pointed out in a press conference, “there are a lot of tools that are available to pilots.”
Three Minutes Before Crash
Asiana Flight OZ214 was cleared for a visual landing. Weather conditions were favorable — there were no visual impairments such as fog, which can be common throughout the year around the airport. The autopilot gets disengaged at around 1,600 feet. Based on chatter among flight crews, there were no indications that anything was out of the ordinary or wrong at this stage.
Seven Seconds Before Crash
According to the NTSB, the Boeing 777 was flying significantly below the targeted landing speed of 137 knots-per-hour (roughly 158 miles-per-hour). “We’re not talking about a few knots,” said Hersman. The pilot at the controls, Lee Kang-guk, and senior pilot, Lee Jung-min, acknowledged the plane was flying too slow and took corrective action.
With only 43 hours of flying time on the Boeing 777 under his belt, Lee Kang-guk was flying under the supervision of Lee Jung-min, the senior flight officer with roughly 3,200 hours of flight time on the 777. This was to be Lee Kang-guk’s first landing of a Boeing 777 at SFO in his career.
At the time of the crash, three of the pilots were in the cockpit and one was in the passenger section of the plane.
Four Seconds Before Crash
The pilots received a warning known as a “stick shaker,” which means that the control stick began to vibrate. A stick shaker warning tells the pilots that the plane is on the verge of an aerodynamic stall, which simply means the plane is losing its ability to stay airborne. The throttles respond to the stick shaker, and both engines on the plane respond with increased speed (this seems to indicate that engine failure is probably not a root cause in the crash, however, it is too soon in the investigation to rule anything out).
Three Seconds Before Crash
Airspeed was degraded to 103 knots-per-hour (roughly 119 miles-per-hour), which is the lowest airspeed during the approach. Both engines were at half power and increasing.
One and a Half Seconds Before Crash
The pilots discuss the need to perform what is called a “go-around.” A go-around is an aborted landing when an aircraft is making its final approach. The pilots wanted to abort the landing and go around to attempt another landing. The plane’s nose pointed upward, and passengers on the flight told reporters that they heard the engines spooling just before impact.
The Boeing 777 hit a rock seawall that lines the beginning of the runway at SFO, breaking pieces of the tail section off the plane. Parts of the tail were found in both the rocks that line the seawall and in the water. The horizontal and vertical stabilizers (on the tail section) were found where the pavement of the runway begins. Losing these pieces of the aircraft would have made it very hard to control the plane.
The fuselage of the plane skidded and turned on its belly before coming to rest in the grass and dirt along the left side of the runway.
A fire erupted after the plane came to a stop. Chaos in the cabin ensued, the emergency masks fell from the roof, overhead bins opened and dropped bags onto passengers and the floor, and there were reports of at least one emergency slide inflating inside the cabin, preventing a flight attendant from evacuating the plane (passengers were able to eventually free the Asiana employee).
Most of those injured were seated towards the rear of the plane. Many were treated for road rash after possibly being dragged as the plane slid to a stop. Some severe back injuries were reported, including paralysis. Others sustained abdominal injuries from their seat belts.
Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia, both 16-year-old Chinese exchange students, were the fatalities in the crash. Authorities are waiting on the results of an autopsy to confirm the cause of death of both girls. It has been reported that one of the girls was run over by a rescue truck rushing to the scene in the aftermath of the crash. It is still unclear whether the girl was still alive prior to being struck by the truck.