Investigators have found no evidence of mechanical problems with Asiana Flight 214, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday, putting the focus of the safety probe into the crash landing at San Francisco International Airport squarely on the pilots.
In her final briefing before the agency concludes its on-site detective work, NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said the airplane itself showed no signs of a breakdown, and on voice recorders the pilots of the Boeing 777 fail to notice that their approach is dangerously low and slow until it's too late.
"There is no mention of speed until about nine seconds before impact when they're at 100 feet," she said Thursday. Just seconds before impact, two of the pilots call for the landing to be aborted.
The airliner itself, though heavily damaged in the crash, had no malfunctions in any critical systems, including the engines and flight-control surfaces, the autopilot, the autothrottles and the flight director, she said.
During the first five days of the NTSB investigation, Hersman has said repeatedly that pilots Lee Gang-kuk, who had never landed a 777 at SFO, and Lee Jeong-Min, who was training him, were ultimately responsible for a safe landing.
Investigators have stressed that nothing has been definitively ruled out and no firm conclusions reached. The NTSB team will soon head back to Washington with "a mountain of information" to analyze and review, from pieces of the airliner to interview transcripts, and agency's final evaluation is expected to take more than a year.
Two people were killed and 180 of the 307 people on board were hurt Saturday, most with minor injuries, when the airliner slammed into a seawall at the end of the runway. The impact ripped off the back of the plane, tossed out three flight attendants and their seats, and scattered pieces of the jet across the runway as it spun and skidded to a stop.
The battered passengers, some with broken bones, were told over the jet's public-address system to stay in their seats for another 90 seconds while the cockpit consulted with the control tower, a safety procedure to prevent people from evacuating into life-threatening fires or machinery.
And in this accident, authorities are investigating whether one of the two Chinese teens who died may have been run over by a fire truck rushing to the burning jet.