NTSB: Asiana Pilots Made Mistakes in Crash Landing at San Francisco International
The National Transportation Board said Tuesday that the Asiana pilots made mistakes during a Seoul to San Francisco flight that crash-landed after hitting a seawall before landing last summer. The accident was related to the pilots' over-reliance on the advanced technological systems aboard the Boeing 777 they were flying as well as a lack of training that could've averted the disaster, which killed three and left many more people injured.
According to a news release from the NTSB, the pilots screwed up and got off course during the plane's initial descent toward the airport; they ended up too high above where they were supposed to be. To correct for that, the pilot initiated the wrong autopilot mode and "took other actions that, unbeknownst to him, resulted in the autothrottle no longer controlling airspeed." Basically, the plane started going too slowly on its descent, and by the time they realized what was happening they were under 100 feet above the ground.
It was too late.
There was a trainee who wasn't experienced in manual landings at the helm of the aircraft that day, and that person wasn't being properly supervised, The Los Angeles Times reported. Plus, the airplane's automated controls are complicated and the pilots didn't understand them well enough, the NTSB said.
In the statement, NTSB's acting chairman, Christopher Hart, said several problems combined to create the crash.
In this accident, the flight crew over-relied on automated systems without fully understanding how they interacted. Automation has made aviation safer. But even in highly automated aircraft, the human must be the boss.
Another fatal crash that automation contributed to? Air France Flight 447, which tragically plunged into the ocean in the summer of 2009. When the plane entered a storm — and the most experienced pilot was taking a nap — faulty sensors that measure airspeed froze over and stopped giving the pilots the information they needed to keep the aircraft flying, according to Popular Mechanics. Eventually, it stalled and crashed into the sea.
Scenarios like that are everybody's worst nightmare. Though the two accidents were very different, there are a couple of similarities: First, the pilots and the automation clashed in a very unfortunate way that led to an unlikely accident; and second, a number of things went wrong in very specific ways, ultimately creating the environment that allowed the incident to occur.
As a result of the incident, the NTSB recommended Asiana and the industry start among other things, instituting better training for pilots; improving automation systems in planes that can alert pilots in different ways at different stages of flight; and creating better evacuation slides that can withstand the kind of impact the Asiana plane took and still allow passengers to safely exit.