California News

Asiana captain worried about visual landing - NTSB

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Asiana Airlines pilot who crashed a Boeing 777 at San Francisco International Airport last summer told investigators he was worried about attempting a visual approach without landing aids.

This is according to an investigative report released on Wednesday at the start of a daylong National Transportation Safety Board hearing into the crash. The hearing was called to answer lingering questions about the crash, not to conclude exactly what went wrong.

The NTSB also provided new video of the crash taken by a camera at the airport.

At the time of the crash, there was construction in the runway, so the automated system that helps pilots land at the airport was out of service.

Captain Lee Kang Kuk was landing the big jet for the first time at San Francisco.

By the time the other two pilots realized that the plane was coming in too low and slow, it was too late. The plane crash-landed, killing three people and injuring more than 200, according to the NTSB.

Lee was an experienced pilot with the Korea-based airline, but he was a trainee captain in the 777, with less than 45 hours in the jet. He had not piloted an airliner into San Francisco since 2004, according to NTSB investigator Bill English.

The investigation has not found any mechanical problems with the 777 prior to impact so far, although testing is ongoing, English said.

Lee told investigators that while privately he was "very concerned" about his ability to do a visual approach, he felt he could not admint that he could not do the visual approach since he realized others had been safely landing at SFO without the help of the landing aid.

There were other indications that a culture of not acknowledging weakness - and of deferring to a higher-ranking colleague - contributed to the crash.

Lee told investigators that he did not immediately move to abort the landing and perform a "go-around" because he felt that only the instructor pilot had the authority to initiate that emergency move.

The pilot also admitted he was worried about his unfamiliarity with the 777's autoflight systems, saying he had not studied the systems well enough and thought that the plane's autothrottle was supposed to prevent the jet from flying below minimum speed as it drew near the runway.

However, two other Asiana pilots who took an instruction class with Lee said that they were told that the throttle hold did not automatically re-engage under certain autopilot modes.

"This pilot should never have taken off," said attorney Ilyas Akbari, whose firm represents 14 of the passengers. "The fact that the pilot was stressed and nervous is a testament to the inadequate training he received, and those responsible for his training and for certifying his competency bear some of the culpability for the tragedy of this crash."

An Asiana pilot who recently flew with Lee told investigators that he was not sure if the trainee captain was making normal progress and that he did not perform well during a trip two days before the accident.

He described Lee as "not well organized or prepared," according to the investigative report.

In previous interviews, Lee insisted that he had been blinded by a bright light during a critical instant before the botched landing. Even after repeated probing by NTSB investigators, Lee was unable to pinpoint its origin or how it precisely affected him.

The instructor pilot said he never saw a bright light outside the aircraft.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

(Copyright ©2014 KABC-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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