Nightly News   |  July 07, 2013

Investigators piece together clues in jetliner crash landing

Investigators continue to gather clues to explain why a Korean jetliner failed to land safely at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday, as recordings of cockpit conversations reveal the crew thought everything was fine until seconds before the crash. NBC’s John Yang reports.

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>>> investigators in san francisco tonight are revealing early but important findings in their search of the cause of crash of asiana flight 214 . the black box recordings from the flight now focusing questions on the crew and its last ditch taemplts to aabort of landing as an alarm began sounding. two chinese teenagers died yesterday when the boeing 777 struck a sea wall and broke up bursting into flames. tonight as many of the injured remain hospitalized, passengers are telling their riveting stories of escape and survival. we want to begin at san francisco 's international airport and john yang .

>> reporter: good even. 9 black box that record all the sounds in a cockpit including crew conversations is giving investigators a pretty good idea of why this big jet came up short when it tried to land. tonight, key clues about the time moments of asiana flight 214 revealed. recordings of cockpit conversations seem to show that the crew thought everything was fine until about seven seconds before landing when one crew member calls for increased speed. then three seconds later they get a warning that the plane is about to stall, lose its ability to fly. a second and a half before impact a call to aabort the lapgsding, but it's too late.

>> the approach speed was 137 knots. and the question was whether or not we had the lowest speed that the crew achieved. i will tell you that the speed was significantly he about low 137 knots and we're not talking about a few knots.

>> reporter: national transportation safety board investigators recovered the cox pit and flight data recorders and sent them to washington over night. they also inspected the wreckage inside and out. the boeing 777 was ending a 10 1/2 hour flight on its time approach to runway 28 left over san francisco bay .

>> i was looking in the window and i was just looking. and i could realize we were too low. basically it sound like we were about to land in the water.

>> reporter: witnesses said the plane's tail hit the sea wall . the rest of the fuselage slammed down on the pavement and breaking off a piece of the landing gear . officials say that when the tail broke off, two passengers, 167-year-old girls from china were thrown from the plane and killed. they were part of a middle school group coming to a summer camp . once the plane came to rest, survivors be gain their evacuation.

>> we see people and i think they need immediate attention because they are alive and walking around.

>> he said he saw people were just walking outside the airplane right now.

>> yes.

>> roger, we have emergency vehicle responding.

>> reporter: a veteran pilot says the plane seems to have come in too low and too slow. and that for whatever reason the pilot didn't or couldn't correct it.

>> at some point the aircraft begins to slettle settle and the pilot will immediately pick up on that. and if he's close to the rn way, there's no time to recover.

>> reporter: investigators still have to corroborate what they heard in these conversation.