South Korea Begins Inspecting 8 Airlines, Looks at Training

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(Courtesy: NTSB Twitter)

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By Greg Botelho and Holly Yan, CNN

(CNN) — South Korea has started a sweeping inspection of eight airlines and may reconsider its rules about training flights, its aviation authority said.

The move follows the weekend crash in San Francisco involving one of South Korea’s two largest carriers.

“Because the plane that crashed was an Asiana Airlines aircraft, there is a special inspection on eight Korean airlines,” said Choi Jeong-ho, head of South Korea’s Aviation Policy Bureau. He did not detail what officials are looking for.

“After the inspection, we will go through various specialists’ reviews and come up with a comprehensive measure with regards to air safety,” he said. “In that process, we will also discuss rules regarding training flights, if needed. However, this does not imply that we see a problem with our current rules” about training flights.

The training of the pilot who tried to land Asiana Airlines Flight 214 has come under great scrutiny.

That pilot is a veteran with nearly 10,000 hours of experience, but he was in his company’s training phase to fly a Boeing 777, said Deborah Hersman, head of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. He was also sitting next to a man who was serving as a pilot instructor for the first time.

Hersman said the “flying pilot” had flown 10 legs and had about 35 hours of air time with the 777, which put him about halfway through Asiana’s training requirement of 20 legs and 60 flight hours when the plane went down.

Choi said to his knowledge, South Korea’s standards for training flights “are in line with global standards.”

Landing gear struck seawall

As more details of the crash emerge, investigators learned the plane’s main landing gear actually struck the seawall off the edge of the San Francisco runway, the NTSB said.

“Sections of the cabin … are found very early in the debris field,” said Hersman, who had walked a few hundred feet from the seawall where the plane’s landing gear and then tail first crashed. “You can see aircraft parts, gallery materials, newspapers, magazines and flooring.”

A total of four pilots were on board, working in shifts. Three were in the cockpit during the final descent, and the fourth was in the cabin.

According to the pilots’ accounts to investigators, tension started moments before the plane touched ground.

Questions about auto throttle

The three pilots in the cockpit told investigators they set the “auto throttle” speed to 137 knots (157 mph), which is the speed the plane should have been going. Akin to cruise control, auto throttles are used to maintain a plane’s speed.

At 200 feet above ground, the instructor pilot said he noted precision approach path indicator lights indicated the giant jet was too low.

It was then “he recognized that the auto throttles were not maintaining speed, and he established a go-around attitude,” the NTSB chief said. “He went to push the throttles forward, but he stated that the other pilot had already (done so).”

Hersman cautioned anyone from jumping to conclusions as to whether a mechanical or pilot error is to blame for the crash. She also said investigators were looking into how the auto throttles were working and whether they were used.

No blood samples

Authorities did not take blood samples from the pilots shortly after the crash because U.S. investigators said they don’t have the jurisdiction to do so with foreign crews.

Mary Schiavo, former inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation, said she disagrees with that rule — especially because U.S. pilots are subject to blood tests after crashes on U.S. soil.

“Whenever anyone enters this country, unless they have diplomatic immunity, you are subject to the laws of the United States,” Schiavo said Wednesday on CNN’s New Day. “I think they should have asked, and frankly demanded, that they be drug an alcohol tested.”

Ejected flight attendants

When the plane departed South Korea, the flight had 307 passengers and crew aboard.

Two 16-year-olds from China, Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia, died after the crash.

Another 182 were injured — including two flight attendants in the rear of the plane who were ejected as the aircraft broke up.

“They were found down the runway and off to the side of the runway,” Hersman said.

Too high, too low

The “flying pilot” and “instructor pilot” who were in the front seat of the cockpit were not among the injured, according to Hersman.

Asiana hired the flying pilot in 1994. He has experience piloting 737, 747 and A-320 aircraft.

The instructor pilot, a South Korean air force veteran with about 13,000 hours of flight experience, recalled Flight 214 being “slightly high when they passed 4,000 feet (and) they set vertical speed mode at about 1,500 feet per minute,” explained Hersman.

But they ended up coming in low. The third pilot in the cockpit told investigators that the nose pitched up, and “he could not see the runway,” the NTSB head said.

In the last few hundred feet before touchdown, the crew was making both lateral and vertical adjustments — meaning it was trying to move sideways to get toward the runway and adjust the height.

When the aircraft hit, it spun 360 degrees. An oil tank ruptured and leaked fuel onto the plane’s right engine, starting a fire.

Under criticism

The Air Line Pilots Association has criticized what it called the “NTSB’s release of incomplete, out-of-context information” that “has fueled rampant speculation about the cause of the accident.”

“Without the full body of facts surrounding a catastrophic event, partial or incomplete information can lead to erroneous conclusions and, in turn, skew the perception of individuals’ behavior,” the pilots union said in its Tuesday statement. “This could then lead to misguided assessments of the crew’s intentions and actions.”

But Hersman defended her agency’s disclosures to the public.

“One of the hallmarks of the NTSB is our transparency. We work for the traveling public,” she said. “There are a lot of organizations and groups that have advocates. We are the advocate for the traveling public. We believe it is important to show our work and to tell people what we are doing.”

She also urged the public to not speculate on the cause of the crash.

The NTSB is not expected issue decision on probable cause for months.

CNN’s Jinjoo Lee, Seohee Sohn, Miguel Marquez, Chelsea Carter and Mike Ahlers contributed to this report.

*Click here for extended coverage on this story …

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