Asiana Airlines Flight 214: Here's What We Know So Far [UPDATE]

Yesterday's crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 was a clear tragedy, with two deaths and upwards of 180 injured. After the initial work of battling the blaze that followed and triaging the passengers, though, the next phase begins – the investigation. Here's what we know so far.

  • The plane, a Boeing 777 manufactured in 2006, originated in Shanghai with a stop in Seoul before heading to its final destination of San Francisco International Airport.
  • Two Chinese girls aged 16 died in the crash, and have been tentatively identified as Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia. There are still conflicting reports on exactly how many were injured and the extent of their injuries.
  • The NTSB, FBI, the FAA, and all relevant government agencies are still investigating the cause, and haven't ruled anything out yet. That includes criminal activity, terrorism, mechanical failure, and, of course, human error. This contradicts an earlier FBI statement that said it didn't appear to be terrorism.
  • The CEO of Asiana Airlines, Yoon Young-Doo, has ruled out mechanical failure, something that was suspected because of a similar incident in 2008, and has offered his initial apologies.

Asiana Airlines Flight 214: Here's What We Know So Far [UPDATE]

  • The "black box" data recorders, which record both telemetry data and conversations in the cockpit, have been recovered and are on their way to Washington for further examination.
  • Numerous eyewitnesses have said that the plane appeared to be approaching lower than is normal for an approach at SFO, and heard the plane's engines accelerate hard just before impact.
  • There was no warning from the crew before impact, and they were "not expecting" the events, according to a passenger.
  • The plane appeared to strike the tail or the landing gear upon the seawall at the edge of the runway, before bouncing heavily and coming to a stop just off the runway, and the tail impact seems to be supported by early photos of the incident.
  • The jet subsequently caught fire, and a number of the passengers have suffered burn injuries.

Asiana Airlines Flight 214: Here's What We Know So Far [UPDATE]

  • Despite concerns about the glide path guidance system at SFO, numerous reports have quoted experts saying that under clear conditions with good weather the system is unnecessary.

I am incredibly reluctant to assign blame in an incident like this, though with mechanical failure ruled out by the company it doesn't seem like there are many other options besides a failure on some part of human input. Usually, we learn from these incidents in some way, but hopefully we'll learn something more than a reminder of the fallibility of even those we trust with our lives.

Of course, we'll update you as we have more information.

UPDATE: The NTSB has recovered both the Cockpit Voice Recorder, as well as the Flight Data Recorder, also known as the "black boxes," according to NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman. So far, it is known that CVR recorded that:

  • The flight was cleared for visual approach to Runway 28-Left, and this was confirmed by the crew.
  • The aircraft was configured for approach, with flaps set at 30 degrees, with the gear down and a target airspeed set for 137 knots.
  • The approach proceeded normally throughout the descent, with no discussion of aircraft anomalies or concerns.
  • A call from one of the crew members to increase speed was made approximately seven seconds prior to impact. The sound of the stick shaker, indicating a stall, sounds approximately four seconds before impact. A call for a go-around, or an aborted landing, was heard at one and a half seconds prior to impact.

The FDR recorded that:

  • During the approach, the engine throttles were set at idle.
  • Airspeed was "significantly below" the target airspeed of 137 knots, and "we're not talking about just a few knots."
  • The throttles were advanced prior to impact, and the engines responded normally.

The NTSB is a few days away from making a determination whether or not the crash was caused by pilot error.

UPDATE #2: Asiana Airlines now says that the pilot who was attempting to land the Boeing 777 was in training, and this was his first flight to SFO at the controls of that specific type of plane, according to Reuters:

"It was Lee Kang-kook's maiden flight to the airport with the jet... He was in training. Even a veteran gets training (for a new jet)," a spokeswoman for Asiana Airlines said on Monday.

Lee had previously flown planes such as the Boeing 747 into SFO, and had over 9,000 hours of flight experience over his career. His co-pilot, Lee Jeong-min, had over 12,000 total career hours of flight experience, including over 3,000 in the 777.

Images via Getty