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NTSB: Asiana captain worried about visual landing

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Asiana Airlines captain who crashed a Boeing 777 at San Francisco International Airport in July told investigators he was "very concerned" about attempting a visual approach because the runway's automatic landing aids were out of service due to construction, according to an investigative report released Wednesday.

Lee Kang Kuk, a 46-year-old pilot who was landing the big jet for his first time at San Francisco, "stated it was very difficult to perform a visual approach with a heavy airplane." The jet crash landed after approaching low and slow in an accident that left three dead and more than 200 injured, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

A visual approach involves lining the jet up for landing by looking through the windshield, as well as using numerous automated cues.

The investigative report was released at the start of a daylong NTSB hearing into the accident.

"In this hearing, we will learn about the facts of the crash, but we will also learn about the factors that enabled so many to walk away," said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman, opening the hearing. "We will focus not only on the human machine interface in highly automated aircraft, but also on emergency response."

Though Lee was an experienced pilot, he was a trainee on the Boeing 777.

NTSB investigator Bill English said Lee had less than 45 hours experience in the Boeing 777 and it was his first trip to San Francisco since 2004.

Lee told investigators that he realized others had been safely landing at San Francisco without the glide slope indicator, an array of antennas that transmits a signal into the cockpit, helping ensure the plane is landing correctly.

That system was out of service while the runway was expanded, and has since been restarted.

But Lee also told investigators he was "not so confident" about his knowledge of the plane's auto flight system.

When asked if he was concerned about his ability to perform the visual approach, Lee said "very concerned, yeah."

Lee said he told his instructors about his concerns in the flight's planning stages. He told investigators that as he realized his approach was off, he was worried he might "fail his flight and would be embarrassed."

Another Asiana pilot who recently flew with Lee told investigators that he was not sure if the trainee captain was making normal progress and that he did not perform well during a trip two days before the accident. That captain described Lee as "not well organized or prepared," according to the investigative report.

According to the NTSB's transcript of the Asiana plane's cockpit voice recorder, the Korean crew did not comment on the jet's low approach until it reached 200 feet above ground.

"It's low," an unnamed crewman said at 11:27 am.

In an instant, the plane began to shake.

At 20 feet, another crewman broke in: "Go around," he said.

It was too late. At impact, someone yelled: "Oh!"

Multiple alarms chimed in the cockpit as the crewmen sat stunned.

Lee acknowledged to investigators that it took him 20 to 30 seconds to order an evacuation from the shattered jet.

San Francisco Fire Department Assistant Deputy Chief Dale Carnes is also scheduled to talk at Wednesday's hearing about how a fire truck racing toward the burning plane ran over a survivor on the tarmac.

Footage taken after the crash showed a fire truck running over 16-year-old Ye Meng Yuan while she was lying on the tarmac covered with fire-retardant foam. The San Mateo County coroner later ruled that she was killed by the truck.

Attorneys representing some of the more than 60 crash victims suing the airline and Boeing Co. plan to attend the hearing. Asiana Airlines is also offering $10,000 to each of the surviving passengers, a payout the airline says is not a settlement and does not prevent passengers from suing the airline.

The hearing was originally scheduled to run for two days, starting Tuesday, but it was postponed because of wintry weather in Washington, D.C. The crash was the first commercial airline crash in the U.S. since one near Buffalo, N.Y., in 2009.

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sinewiz December 11 2013 at 7:21 PM

Isn't it safe to say that if a commercial airline pilot is "very concerned" about a landing that just possibly he shouldn't be flying the plane?

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2 replies
rkbrownjr sinewiz December 11 2013 at 8:06 PM

Too late by then.

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dusty754 sinewiz December 11 2013 at 8:09 PM

Hell he probably shouldn't even be ON BOARD

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wilbur767 December 11 2013 at 1:03 PM

A lot can be said about training or lack there of, but I hope they investigate culture as a key factor in the accident. Many foreign carriers still have the "Captain is God" attitude, and he is not to be questioned. During this flight, there were 2 Captains in the front seats (one trainee and one check airman). Is it any wonder if that culture was a factor why the pilot(s) watching from the back seats didn't say anything until it was to late?? U.S. carriers went through the CRM transition decades ago (to get away from that bad philosophy) after accidents ocurred that should never have happened for the exact same reason.

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dave and mary December 11 2013 at 1:04 PM

"Tomorrow airplanes will have a pilot and a dog. The pilot is there to feed the dog; and the dog is there to bite the pilot if he touches anything."
More truth to that saying than you could ever imagine. Hello tomorrow.

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sgard206 December 11 2013 at 1:05 PM

I discussed this crash with a couple of commercial pilot friends, and bottom line is that the Korean pilots do not get the proper training and flying time before they get control of these planes. Most American pilots begin in small planes where they are taught to FLY THE PLANE. A Visual rating comes first, then more training for instrument flying, multi-engines, retractable landing gears, etc. Korean pilots get simulator training, and off they go. If Mr. Lee could not make a visual approach on a clear day, he definitely needs to get more skills before flying to the US. (The attorneys going after Boeing make me sick. It wasn't the fault of the plane. Pilot error.)
Ironically, as we were having this discussion, we watched a Korean airliner fly over on its approach to SeaTac. About 15 minutes later, it came over again. Oops, missed approach--on a clear and sunny evening. But then again, a few years back a Russian airliner lined up on a nearby main street, mistaking it for a runway. Life in the flight path!

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motorprops December 11 2013 at 1:34 PM

What I find appalling is that they are sueing Boeing. The pilot flies the plane into the ground. The plane is well built enough to save most of the lives. They should all thank Boeing for their lives.

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JOSEPH December 11 2013 at 1:39 PM

The accident and resulting injuries and deaths are tragic and this is undeniably the cause of a trickle down that begabn with flight school instructors and ended with the pilots employer clearing him to operate and, subsequently land such a large aircraft. It is undoubtedlly the pilots failures as well in not recognizing (or admitting) his inadequacy and lack of training and experience. The worst thing that could happen is that the news outlets focus this story on who to blame rather than the injured and killed passengers. Let the NTSB do their job and I am quite sure they will burn the responsible party(ies).

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Mike December 11 2013 at 1:39 PM

Sure would be nice if the airline informed the passengers that the pilot was a rookie @ the controls of this type of aircraft, giving passengers the option to disembark.

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2 replies
OSHP367 Mike December 11 2013 at 1:51 PM


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wlorton Mike December 11 2013 at 2:05 PM

Or get a "rookie" discount.

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rchulse December 11 2013 at 6:40 PM

Pure B.S. he is very weak and the crew should be in jail...and Asiana should be shut down. There is no excuse for this, none.

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jackschmdt December 11 2013 at 1:45 PM

This sounds like the captain of the plane really was Sum Ting Wong!

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f&d silano December 11 2013 at 3:38 PM

this pilot should of had a expert pilot flying with him untill he had the ability to fly the 777 with visual flight

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1 reply
captbob757 f&d silano December 11 2013 at 3:44 PM

He did have an instructor with him (as previously reported) as he was doing O.E. (Initial Operating Experience) on the 777.

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