Fatal Asiana Flight Investigation Continues, Reveals Pilot Error

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigations into the fatal plane crash that recently took place in San Francisco are starting to reveal how and why it happened. An Asiana Airlines pilot trainee told federal officials that, in his nervousness upon landing, he mistakenly disabled a speed-control system. Airplane accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm remind our readers that this is not a criminal investigation, although it may aid consequent injury lawsuits against Asiana.

The crash occurred in July 2013 after the Asiana flight from South Korea descended too low and slowly into the San Francisco airport, hitting the seawall. Two passengers died at the crash scene and one passenger died several days later in the hospital. Over 180 others were injured, about a dozen of them critically, including three flight attendants who were thrown onto the tarmac still strapped to their seats.

The above-mentioned pilot, a 45-year-old Asiana veteran, was being trained to fly that specific aircraft, a Boeing 777. He told investigators that the San Francisco airport was unfamiliar to him, and he inadvertently adjusted the power controls and assumed the engines were to remain idle. This admission causes experts to question the automatic throttles onboard Boeing aircrafts and the adequacy of training related to them.

He further stated that he believed the auto-throttle’s idle positioning caused the plane to descend below 500 feet. According to Bloomberg, most Boeings have speed-protections systems that prevent the aircraft from going below the minimum speed for landing. Why such safeguards were not in place in that 777 is not clear, though the NTSB confirmed that the Boeing’s autopilot and auto-throttle combination settings became dormant during its approach.

There were two other pilots on board at the time, none of whom recognized how dangerous the descent was until just a few seconds before the plane hit the seawall. Asiana requires pilots to abort landings if the plane drops below 500 feet, however, this action was never taken. The NTSB did confirm that a series of chimes went off about 11 seconds before impact, however, none of the pilots were recorded responding to them. The chimes indicated that the aircraft was too low for landing.

Also warning the pilots of the dangerous descent was the shaking of the plane’s control column. This is known as aerodynamic stall, and only occurs when aircrafts are rapidly travelling below 50 feet. Only after the aerodynamic stall did pilots finally attempt to abort the landing, however, the attempt came too late.

Analysts state that the crash damaged Asiana’s reputation, particularly in Asia, and consequent lawsuits will undoubtedly result in large payouts to victims and higher insurance premiums. A spokesperson for the airline stated that Asiana is committed to taking all necessary steps to ensure such an incident is never repeated.

Among its remedial measures, Asiana has increased the training hours for flight-simulation and is changing its manual flight maneuvers, which numerous pilots have cited problems with. The confusion with such manual maneuvers is the consequence of an industry increasingly reliant on automatic systems. Pilots become used to relying exclusively on autopilots and computerized navigation systems and lose basic manual skills.

Federal investigations ultimately confirmed that it was problems with the autopilot and auto-throttle systems that caused the crash. The three women killed that day, all students from China, were flung from the plane, and at least one was not wearing a seatbelt. In a gruesome turn of events, one of the fatality victims was still alive after being thrust onto the tarmac, however, was killed after being twice run over by a fire truck.

We will continue to report on this story as more investigation details unfold and subsequent injury lawsuits are filed. Our team of plane crash attorneys sincerely hopes Asiana and other airlines learn valuable lessons from this tragedy, and similar accidents are never repeated. Contact our firm today if you have any questions regarding aviation accidents involving major carriers or small private planes. Our legal consultations are free of charge, and we take cases nationwide.