The pilots of the ill-fated Asiana Airlines
flight 214 were trying to correct their course shortly before landing
and assumed the planes's auto-throttle would keep the plane's
airspeed up, lead investigator Deborah Hersman said Tuesday.
All the pilots of the Korean-based airline were cooperating with the investigation, said Hersman, who heads the US National Transport Safety Board which is coordinating the probe.
She said that the pilots realized when they were 500 feet (152 metres) from the ground that they were coming in off center.
"They were making corrections," Hersman said. "They were making corrections because they knew they were low and they were making lateral corrections to line up on the center line."
Hersman confirmed that the pilot who was landing the plane on Saturday had never landed a Boeing 777 before and had only 35 hours of flying time on the wide-bodied jet. The flight, which had originated in Seoul, had 307 people on board, and all but two escaped the crash scene with their lives.
Nine adults and three children remain in the hospital, said Rachael Kagan, a spokeswoman for San Francisco General Hospital. Four adults and one child remain in critical condition.
The pilot instructor, who was an experienced 777 pilot had just received his instructor's certification, and this was the first time the two pilots had flown together, Hersman said.
She said that in the interview, the instructor had told investigators that he thought that the plane's auto-throttle device was keeping it at the required speed. In fact the plane was going at only 106 knots when it hit the ground, instead of a minimum speed of 137 knots.
The plane's low approach speed has been cited as a major cause of the crash in which the plane landed short of the runway, hitting a sea wall that sheered off its undercarriage and caused the plane's tail to come off.
Both the training pilot and instructor had landed at San Francisco numerous times in the past, with the trainee pilot, Lee Kang-kook flying a 747 to San Francisco 29 times and the instructor landing at the airport 33 times.
Two teenage girls on a summer trip from China to America died in the accident.
Hersman's comments are sure to heap further focus on the qualifications of the pilots and their possible culpability for the crash.
Speculation has been rife that pilot error caused the crash, since officials have so far found no evidence of engine or mechanical trouble and no problems were reported during the flight or on the landing approach.
But the world's largest pilots union has harshly criticized the NTSB, saying that "the NTSB's release of incomplete, out-of-context information has fueled rampant speculation about the cause of the accident."
In a statement, the Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA) said that the NTSB statements gave the impression that the agency "had already determined probable cause."
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