San Francisco plane crash: Pilot was on first training flight

The senior pilot who oversaw the landing by a more junior colleague of the Asiana passenger jet that crashed in San Francisco on Saturday was on his first flight as a trainer, the South Korean airline said on Monday.

Asiana Airlines said that the senior pilot on the flight, Lee Jung-min, had received his training certificate in June.

Lee Kang-kuk was the second most junior pilot of four on board the Asiana Airlines aircraft. He had just 43 hours of experience flying the long-range jet and, under supervision, was making his first landing on a Boeing 777 at San Francisco.

"Only veterans are qualified to become flight instructors. They need to go through training to get certificates," an Asiana official said, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Lee Jung-min clocked up 3 220 flying hours on a Boeing 777, according to the company and South Korean transport officials.

Two teenage Chinese girls on their way to summer camp in the United States were killed and more than 180 injured in the crash, the first fatal accident involving the Boeing 777 since it entered service in 1995.

Victim run over by fire engine
Chinese state media identified the two dead passengers as Ye Mengyuan (16) and Wang Linjia (17), high school classmates from eastern China's Zhejiang province.

One of the girls may have been run over by an airport fire engine rushing to the scene, San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White told reporters. White did not identify the victim.

"As it possibly could have happened, based on the injuries sustained, it could have been one of our vehicles that added to the injuries, or another vehicle," Hayes-White told the San Francisco Chronicle.

San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault told the newspaper that the other girl appeared to have died from injuries suffered as she was hurled out of the plane when its tail broke off in the crash.

The two friends were coming to visit Stanford University, just south of San Francisco, and to attend a summer camp at a local Christian school, the Chronicle reported.

Asked about the accidental death report, Beijing's foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said: "We are still trying to verify the situation."

US investigators said on Sunday that the Asiana jet was travelling much slower than recommended as it attempted to land.

The flight data recorder showed that as the Boeing 777 approached the runway its pilots were warned that the aircraft was likely to stall and asked to abort the landing.

Pilot's request came too late
The request to abort was captured on the cockpit voice recorder 1.5 seconds before the plane crashed, said National Transportation Safety Board chairperson Deborah Hersman, who is leading the probe.

The plane was landing at a speed well below the recommended 137 knots, Hersman said.

Her announcement came minutes after a video obtained by CNN confirmed that the aircraft clipped a seawall short of the airport runway and skidded on its belly.

The footage showed the plane with its nose up and its rear hitting the ground. The plane then hit the tarmac, abruptly bounced upward, and spun around 180 degrees. The plane's tail section was torn off in the crash.

The plane's low speed triggered an automatic device that warns pilots the plane is about to stall. The warning came four seconds before the crash – 2.5 seconds before one of the pilots tried to abort the landing.

Analysts said the pilot's request came too late.

The pilot's mistake?
Choi Jeong-Ho, the head of South Korea's transportation ministry's aviation policy bureau, was defensive when he spoke to reporters about the pilot on Monday.

"We cannot conclude the accident was caused by a pilot mistake. Whether there was a pilot mistake can be confirmed after all related data are analysed and inspected," Choi said.

On Sunday Asiana Airlines chief executive Yoon Young-Doo apologised for the incident, and said that the plane, which was bought in 2006, had no known mechanical problems.

Asiana Flight 214, which originated in Shanghai and stopped in Seoul, had 291 passengers and 16 crew members aboard.

In total, 123 people aboard the flight escaped unharmed, US officials said.

Several of the injured were still in critical condition or unconscious, the San Francisco General Hospital said.

Doctors saw "a huge amount of spine fracture, some of which include paralysis", Margaret Knudson, interim surgery chief at the hospital, told reporters.

Boeing 777's first fatalities
The twin-engine Boeing 777 is one of the world's most popular aeroplanes used for long distance flights.

According to aviation safety databases, the two dead teens are the 777's first fatalities in the plane's 18 years of service.

It was the first deadly Asiana passenger plane crash since June 1993, when one of its Boeing 737s slammed into a mountain in South Korea, killing 68.

Asiana's share price ended down nearly 6% on Monday as investors digested the impact of the accident.

Huge insurance payouts to victims and for the aircraft could raise future premiums and increase the company's financial burdens.

Aviation experts however said the damage to its business could be limited, as South Korea's number-two airline has spent years building a reputation for safety and quality. – AFP, Reuters

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