Asiana Flight 214: NTSB examining voice, data recordings on Asiana 214
Updated: July 7, 2013 - 10:00 pm
Authorities say Asiana flight 214, which crashed in San Francisco Saturday, killing two people and injuring dozens more, was flying too slowly.
National Transportation Safety Board officials, say the Boeing 777 was traveling at speeds well below the targeted landing of 157 miles per hour, or about 137 knots per hour.
"We're not talking about a few knots," says NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman.
Investigators say cockpit voice and flight data recordings - now being examined by NTSB technicians in Washington, D.C. - paint a picture of what was going on in the aircraft moments before the crash.
Among the findings:
The pilots attempted to initiate a 'go-around' maneuver to abort the landing about a second-and-a-half before impact. The process involves bringing the engines to full power, regaining altitude as fast as possible.
The recordings also revealed there was an attempt to increase speed seven seconds before the crash.
Hersman also says the aircraft's stick shaker, a device that warns pilots of an impending stall, went off moments before.
But it was too late.
"It looked like a mushroom cloud," said one witness. "Looked like an explosion."
Now, the day after the crash, survivors are reliving those last few, frightening moments.
"In your head everything goes into slow motion, you can't believe it is happening," says passenger Benjamin Levy.
Survivor Vedpal Singh recalls, "The moment we heard that loud bang, and we were pretty sure that, you know, that something has gone wrong."
Authorities believe the plane, with more than 300 people aboard, hit a seawall, just a few feet ahead of the runway.
Aviation expert John Nance says it was close.
"If they'd had an additional 10 feet," he says, "I think they probably would have made it."
Instead, the aircraft slammed into the concrete tarmac. The tail section broke off, the rest of the 777 skidding to a stop.
"It was disbelief, screaming, a bit of chaos," Levy says.
Sunday night, stories have been emerging of police officers throwing utility knives to crew members inside the burning wreckage, to cut away passengers' seat belts.
People on board used emergency escape slides, even holes in the fusilage to escape.
"We managed to calm down pretty quickly, and really started getting out, and not pushing each other, not stepping on each other," says Levy.
Witnesses say moments before, the jet's nose was up, suggesting there wasn't enough power or momentum to make the runway.
Aviation Consultant Stephen Ganyard believes "something happened at that point in the approach when the aircraft got too low and the crew was not able to save the aircraft."
Searchers would later find the bodies of two 16-year-old Chinese girls, in the plane's mid-section, the only fatalities.
Investigators say 182 were injured, 49 critically.
"A lot of people have broken ribs, bruised ribs, spine injuries, maybe some people hopefully can walk again, some broken bones," Levy says.
Experts say stronger seats, more flame retardant plane parts, and a quick evacuation saved lives.
Asiana Airlines officials insist mechanical error is not to blame.
Meanwhile, the NTSB is also looking into why a ground-based guidance system - the instrument landing system, or ILS for short - wasn't working. The ILS issues an audio warning in the cockpit, for example, that a plane is flying too low.
However, NTSB investigators say there are other on-board systems that should normally perform the same function.
Hersman says NTSB investigators hope to interview Flight 214's pilots within a few days. She says the investigation into the crash could take 12-18 months to complete.
Experts say it's a miracle that more people weren't killed.
"We're very thankful that we didn't have more fatalities and serious injuries and we have so many survivors," Hersman says.
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