SAN FRANCISCO — The evacuation of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 didn’t start for 90 seconds after the plane crash-landed, because the pilots initially told flight attendants to keep passengers in their seats, U.S. investigators said.
U.S. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman, describing the scene in a briefing today, said the situation changed after a flight attendant reported seeing fire outside the cabin.
At that point, two of the 12 attendants had been pinned by emergency chutes that went off inside the cabin and three others had been ejected from the plane on impact.
“What we saw here is that the first slides weren’t opened for about 90 seconds,” Hersman said.
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Aircraft manufacturers must demonstrate to regulators that a full load of passengers can be evacuated from a plane in that same time.
All but two of the 307 people on board survived the July 6 crash-landing, the first fatal airline accident in the U.S. since 2009. It was Seoul-based Asiana’s first crash since a Boeing 747 cargo plane went down at sea in July 2011.
3 attendants ejected
The evacuation began after a senior flight attendant seated near the plane’s second set of doors saw fire beginning near where the right engine came to rest, Hersman said. The delay occurred as the pilot checked with the tower at the airport.
Fire didn’t reach the cabin until most of the people were outside, she said.
After saying Tuesday that two flight attendants were flung outside the plane, Hersman Wednesday said the number was three. They had been seated in the rear of the plane and survived with unspecified injuries, she said.
Flight attendants joined pilots in trying to fight the fire advancing toward the fuselage while guiding passengers to exits as police and firefighters arrived.
Lee Kang-guk, a veteran pilot who was transitioning to the 777 after flying other jets, was at the controls of Flight 214 on approach under supervision of a senior management pilot making his first flight as a trainer, according to the NTSB.
A third pilot, seated at the rear of the cockpit, warned the crew about altitude on the approach, Hersman said. He told investigators he called out “sink rate,” an indication the plane was descending too rapidly.
Investigators are trying to determine how the pilots set the auto-throttle and whether it worked properly. The device flies the plane at a speed selected by pilots and has built-in functions to keep the aircraft from slowing too much.
While the initial investigation shows it was “armed,” the NTSB doesn’t yet understand how it was set and how the plane could have slowed.
The plane slowed to almost 40 miles per hour below its target speed before hitting the seawall short of the runway, Hersman has said.
The speed fell as the aircraft neared the runway, dropping below the target landing speed of 158 mph. It got as low as 119 mph three seconds before impact.
The jet slowed so much that a cockpit warning of an impending aerodynamic stall sounded four seconds before it crash-landed.
Airline rules require pilots to abort a landing if a plane isn’t set up properly before a landing.
Boeing suggests that pilots abandon a landing attempt if a plane isn’t on a path to the runway and at the correct speed at an altitude of 500 feet, according to guidelines on its website.
The Asiana pilots didn’t attempt to abort the landing until 1½ seconds before impact, Hersman said earlier this week.
Crew members weep
Meanwhile, about the same time as the NTSB briefing, at a chaotic news conference at the San Francisco airport, six of the Asiana Flight 214 crew posed for photographs Wednesday, but only one spoke. A translator said news cameras and camera flashes exacerbated their emotional state.
“This was a very emotional event,” said the translator, who refused to give her name. Some of the crew covered their faces as they wept.
Lee Yoon Hye, cabin manager, said she hoped all the victims and their families recover.
Late Tuesday, San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault identified the Chinese teenager who may have been struck by a rescue vehicle racing to the crash site of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 as Ye Mengyuan.
Mengyuan and Wang Linjia, also 16, were the only two people of the 307 passengers and crew to perish in the crash-landing.