The flying pilot of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 told National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials that he was “blinded” temporarily by a flash of light at 500 feet, or 34 seconds before impact — about the same time the pilots realized they were flying too low and going too slow. The NTSB doesn’t know what caused the flash, and is continuing to investigate.
At Wednesday’s NTSB briefing, NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman released information from the board’s investigation. She detailed who was on the crew, the communications between air traffic control and the Asiana pilots, and the plane’s evacuation.
Evacuation delayed 90 seconds
Additionally, crash pilots initially told flight attendants not to evacuate. A flight attendant seated in the middle of the plane looked over and saw fire outside the plane window and sent his colleague to the front of the plane to communicate with the head flight attendant. With the knowledge of the fire, the flight attendants then began to evacuate the plane, staring about a minute and a half after the crash.
NTSB officials are also saying that three flight attendants, not two, were ejected from the back of the aircraft when it hit the ground.
Pilot error or plane malfunction?
Hersman explained that there are many levels of automation on an airplane, including auto-pilot and auto-throttle. Throttle refers to the plane’s power and pilots use auto-throttle to control speed and help with ascent and descent. Hersman said that in the last 2½ minutes before the Asiana flight crashed, there were multiple auto-pilot and auto-throttle modes in use.
“There are multiple modes being engaged,” Hersman said. “We need to understand how they work together and what it means. We still have some work to do in this area.” The NTSB has not sorted out whether pilots knew what they were doing or if there was a malfunction.
One place where the aircraft did malfunction was in deploying evacuation slides. Two flight attendants on the right side of the plane were pinned by evacuation slides that inflated inside the aircraft after impact. “The evacuation slide normally inflates when it’s in the armed position and the door is opened,” Hersman said. “It is unknown at this time why the doors inflated inside the aircraft.”
SFO runway cleanup
The NTSB will release the runway to SFO in the next 24 hours, if not by tonight, but the airport will still have a lot to clean up before the runway can reopen. Airport employees will have to remove plane debris and chunks of seawall dragged onto the runway, repair runway systems and rebuild the seawall before runway 28L will be back in service. That likely means more delays at SFO.