Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pilot who crashed at SFO worried about landing

WASHINGTON — The pilots of the Asiana jumbo jet that crashed in San Francisco on July 6 were deeply confused about the plane's automated control systems, and that is a common problem among airline pilots, according to experts who testified Wednesday in a National Transportation Safety Board hearing on the crash.

"We do have an issue in aviation that needs to be dealt with," the chairwoman of the safety board, Deborah A.P. Hersman, told reporters during a break in the hearing.

The captain and the supervising pilot in the Asiana crash — in which a Boeing 777 hit a sea wall short of the runway, killing three passengers — said they thought a system that is used to control the plane's airspeed was running, although it was not. And all three pilots overlooked a prominent display that showed that their airspeed was too low.

According to documents released by the board, for 19 seconds leading up to the crash the pilots had a clear view of guidance lights on the field that indicated that they were flying too low, but they did not follow company procedure to break off the approach.

Government studies as far back as 1996 show a heavy reliance on automation that pilots often do not understand, witnesses said. One common problem is what they call "mode error," in which pilots become confused about what automated cockpit controls will do in a certain situation. The problem is akin to having trouble with the buttons on a remote control unit for a home entertainment system, but with greater consequences.

The plane's captain, Lee Kang Kuk, told investigators — although he was wrong — that he believed the protection system in the Boeing was similar to the one in the Airbus A320, which he had substantially more experience flying.

In the Boeing, the throttle levers — one for each of the two engines and located on a center pedestal between the captain and the first officer — will move as the automatic system manipulates the engines. In the Airbus they will not move even when the auto-throttle adjusts the engines' power.

Boeing's design leaves more discretion to the pilot and does not always ensure that the engines will maintain a minimum speed. Asiana ground school instructors warned the crews that the auto-throttle would be disabled when autopilot was being used by the crew to control the plane's descent to a certain altitude, according to one safety board document, but the lesson evidently did not stick.

Passengers from Asiana Airlines Flight 214 gather on the tarmac just moments after the plane crashed July 6 in San Francisco.

Associated Press

Passengers from Asiana Airlines Flight 214 gather on the tarmac just moments after the plane crashed July 6 in San Francisco.

Pilot who crashed at SFO worried about landing 12/11/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 11:24pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, New York Times.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Florida's school grades improve as educators get the hang of a new system


    Following a trend, Florida's school grades showed strong gains in the third year after the state changed its grading formula and the standardized tests that students take every year.

    After finding out earlier Wednesday that her school went from a low C to an A,  Bear Creek Elementary principal Willette Houston celebrates with her students in the YMCA After School program at the school in St. Petersburg. Houston is giving a high five to rising fifth grader Jonaven Viera. Rising 4th grader Jonathan Cafaro is in foreground with his back to camera. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]
  2. More charges for Tampa Bay area woman accused of getting pregnant by 11-year-old boy


    TAMPA — A woman sexually battered an 11-year-old Brandon boy, got pregnant and raised the baby for three years before a tip led to her arrest, Hillsborough County sheriff's officials said.

    Marissa Mowry, now 25,  had sex as many as 20 times in 2014 with a boy who was 11 when he impregnated her, Hillsborough County detectives allege. [Photo courtesy of Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  3. Heights Public Market to host two Tampa Bay food trucks


    TAMPA — The Heights Public Market announced the first two food trucks for its "rotating stall," which will feature new restaurants every four months. Surf and Turf and Empamamas will be rolled out first.

    Heights Public Market is opening this summer inside the Tampa Armature Works building.
[SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times file photo]

  4. Mariners lose lefty Drew Smyly to Tommy John surgery


    SEATTLE — Drew Smyly was the centerpiece to one of Seattle's many offseason moves by general manager Jerry Dipoto. He was a priority acquisition as a proven lefty for the rotation the Mariners believed would thrive pitching at Safeco Field.

    Drew Smyly will undergo Tommy John surgery after being diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Seattle announced the diagnosis on Wednesday, ending Smyly's hopes of returning during the 2017 season. [AP photo]
  5. Author Randy Wayne White could open St. Pete's biggest restaurant on the pier

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — The story begins with Yucatan shrimp.

    St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, pilot Mark Futch, Boca Grande, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and author and businessman Randy Wayne White,  Sanibel, exit a Maule Super Rocket seaplane after taking a fight around Tampa Bay off the St. Petersburg waterfront, 6/28/17.  White and his business partners are in negotiations with the City of St. Petersburg to build a fourth Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille on the approach to the St. Petersburg Pier with a second event space on the pier according to White. The group met near Spa Beach after a ground breaking ceremony for the new pier. "We want to have our business open by the time the pier opens," said White. Other Dr. Ford restaurants are located on Sanibel, Captiva and Ft. Myers Beach. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times