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Pilot in charge of Asiana flight was on his first trip as an instructor: NTSB

The pilot who was in charge of the flight that crashed at the San Francisco airport was making his first trip as an instructor, overseeing a pilot who was still in training on the Boeing 777 and at the controls, investigators said Tuesday.

The disclosure came after the National Transportation Safety Board interviewed three of the four pilots who were on Asiana Airlines Flight 214 during Sunday's accident, which killed two teenagers. The fourth, who was in the cabin at the time, was being interviewed Tuesday.

It was also revealed that two flight attendants were ejected from the rear of the plane, but survived, National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman Deborah Hersman said at a Tuesday evening briefing.

There were four pilots on board Flight 214 because it was a trip of more than 10 hours across the Pacific Ocean from Seoul, South Korea.

The pilot at the controls, identified by the airline as Lee Kang-kuk, was still in training on the Boeing 777. He had had 43 hours of flying time in the aircraft, but officials have said he was landing a Triple 7 at San Francisco International for the first time.

He was working with a “training captain” who had logged 3,000 hours on the 777 — but who Hersman said was making his first trip as an instructor.

"This was the first time he and the flying pilot had flown together,” Hersman said.

She also said that the pilots told investigators they were relying on automated cockpit equipment to control their speed during final approach, which prompts questions about whether a mistake was made in programming the "autothrottle" or if the equipment malfunctioned.

The NTSB has not identified human error, mechanical failure or another problem as the cause of the accident, but the three pilots in the cockpit told the NTSB they realized they were coming in too low when they were at 500 feet.

They said they tried to correct it as they lost altitude but could not stop the jetliner's landing gear from clipping the seawall on the way to the runway.

“After the impact, the aircraft ballooned, it yawed left and went into a 360-degree spin,” Hersman said.

Drug and alcohol tests were not given to the pilots after the crash, but only U.S. pilots are required to take them after incidents at American airports, Hersman said.

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Details of what happened next illustrated the power and horror of the crash:

  • Two flight attendants were ejected from tail-less plane at impact and were found off to the side of the runway. They survived but suffered injuries, Hersman said.
  • At least one evacuation slide deployed inside the cabin, trapping another flight attendant, she confirmed.
  • An oil tank ruptured and leaked fuel onto the hot No. 2 engine, sparking the fire that left the jet a charred hulk.

Hersman said she walked from the seawall to the plane on Tuesday, following a trail of wreckage that revealed the landing gear struck the seawall before the tail smacked down and was ripped off. Sections of cabin, aircraft parts, galley materials, newspapers, magazines and flooring were found in the debris field.

Two Chinese teenagers on their way to summer camp in the United States were killed — one perhaps run over by a fire engine racing to the scene — and 180 people were injured, with 25 remaining in area hospitals Tuesday, six in critical condition. Remarkably, scores of people walked away unhurt.

The plane came in far too slow — 119 mph just before it crash-landed, about 40 mph slower than touchdown speed. Four seconds before impact, the cockpit was warned of a possible stall by a mechanism that rattles the controls in the pilot’s hand.

The airline’s chief executive, Yoon Young-doo, said earlier Tuesday that the pilots had adequate qualifications, but he said the airline would nonetheless “beef up” its simulation training.

Yoon planned to fly to San Francisco on Tuesday on the same Flight 214.