Asiana Flight 214 Pilot Was ‘Very Concerned’ About Visual Landing

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) hearing on the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 started today. At the start of the hearing, NTSB officials released an investigative report on their findings thus far. According to reports from the San Francisco Chronicle, these are some of the focal points discussed in the report:

  • Lee Kang Kuk was the pilot at the controls during Asiana Flight 214’s ill-fated approach. Lee, who was landing a Boeing 777 aircraft for the first time at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), told NTSB investigators after the crash that he had been “very concerned” about his ability to perform a visual landing. SFO’s glide slope indicator, which is an automatic system that helps pilots with their approach to the runway, was not operational due to construction. Lee was nervous about using “stick and rudder” flying skills to land the plane.
  • A trainee in the Boeing 777 aircraft, Lee told his instructors prior to the flight about his reservations. He had logged less than 45 hours flight time on the Boeing 777 and had not landed a plane at SFO since 2004. “This pilot should never have taken off,” according to aviation attorney Ronald L.M. Goldman, whose firm represents 14 of the passengers. The ILS (Instrument Landing System) being out was published in Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs), and therefore known before the flight ever took off — assuming the pilot and his dispatch department did the required pre-flight planning.  If the captain was not comfortable before takeoff with his skill at executing a visual approach, it was his duty to reject this flight. Visual approaches are to be practiced in simulators, and not treated as a training exercise on a commercial flight.
  • When Lee realized his approach was off, he was anxious that he might “fail his flight and would be embarrassed.”
  • Transcript of the flight shows that the flight crew did not recognize the plane was too low until it was 200 feet from the ground. At 20 feet, one of the pilots uttered, “go around,” which is a prompt to abort the landing. At that point it was too late, and seconds later someone in the cockpit could be heard yelling, “oh!” at impact.
  • Lee told investigators that just before the botched landing, he had been blinded by a bright light from outside of the plane. NTSB officials continued to ask Lee about the light, but he was unable to tell them specifically where the light came from or how exactly it had affected him. The instructor pilot in the cockpit did not see the bright light.
  • Lee admitted that it took him between 20 and 30 seconds to order an evacuation.
  • Another pilot that had flown with Lee two days prior to the accident described him as “not well organized or prepared.” The other pilot also told investigators that Lee didn’t perform well on the trip they made together and that he was not sure if Lee was making normal progress as a trainee.
  • Another issue raised in the report centered on the Boeing 777’s autothrottle system, which when placed in the “hold” position should re-engage once the plane reaches a minimum speed to prevent the aircraft from stalling. According to the NTSB report, this control doesn’t always engage at minimum speeds, as was the case during the Asiana flight. A primary project pilot that performed Boeing 787 test flights for the FAA reported to the NTSB that the same issue existed in the 787 and the B777.
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