US investigators has said that the Boeing 777 that crash-landed at San Francisco airport was "significantly below" its target speed near the runway and the pilot tried to abort the landing. The pilot of the Asiana Airlines flight from Seoul requested a "go around" 1.5 seconds before the crash. The plane with 307 people came down short of runway, killing two people and injuring dozens. The aircraft apparently hit a sea wall, ripping off its tail. Passengers and crew escaped down emergency slides as it burst into flames.
San Francisco's coroner is currently trying to establish whether one of the two fatalities died of injuries after being run over by an emergency vehicle rushing to the scene of the crash. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chief Deborah Hersman said aircraft speed was below the planned 137 knots (158mph; 254km/h) as it approached the runway. Citing information both from the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder, she said there was a call to increase the speed about two seconds before the impact. The pilot then requested a "call to go around" and not land, Ms Hersman added.
"We have to take another look at the raw data and corroborate it with radar and air traffic information to make sure we have a very precise speed. But again, we are not talking about a few knots here or there. We're talking about a significant amount of speed below 137," she said. Asked about possible reasons for this, Ms Hersman stressed that "everything is on the table" and "it is too early to rule anything out". The head of the South Korean airline, Yoon Young-doo, earlier said he was not ruling out human error but said the pilots were experienced veterans.
Mr Yoon apologised "deeply" for the effect the accident had had on all those involved, bowing in front of TV cameras at a Seoul news conference. Eyewitness Ki Siadatan: "[The plane] seemed like it was out of control. Currently we understand that there were no engine or mechanical problems," he said. Asiana confirmed that two female Chinese teenagers died in the crash. They had been seated at the back of the aircraft. They are believed to be the first-ever fatalities in a Boeing 777 crash.
The twin-engine aircraft has a good safety record for long-haul and is used by many major carriers. The only previous notable crash occurred when a British Airways plane landed short of the runway at London's Heathrow Airport in 2008. Five people are in critical condition at San Francisco General Hospital. Three others are being treated at Stanford Hospital. Altogether 181 people were taken to hospital, mostly with minor injuries.
There were 291 passengers and 16 crew on board, Asiana said. Nationalities on board included 141 Chinese, 77 South Koreans and 61 US citizens. All of the passengers have been accounted for. Footage of the scene showed debris strewn on the runway and smoke pouring from the jet, as fire crews sprayed a white fire retardant into gaping holes in the craft's roof. One engine and the tail fin were broken away from the main wreckage.
Passenger Ben Levy said there had been no warning of problems, although the plane appeared to be coming in too fast and too low. "It happened in a flash, nobody was worried about anything," he said. But once the aircraft crashed, "there was chaos, disbelief, screaming". "My seat had been pushed to the floor, it was a mess everywhere," Mr Levy recalled. Nevertheless, people "calmed down pretty quickly" and evacuated the plane without pushing or stepping on each other.
A witness to the crash, Ki Siadatan, said the plane "looked out of control" as it descended over San Francisco Bay to land just before 11:30 (18:30 GMT). "We heard a 'boom' and saw the plane disappear into a cloud of dust and smoke," he said. "There was then a second explosion." Arrivals and departures at the airport have been suspended since the incident.
Some of Facts related to Boeing 777
Twin-engine jet launched in June 1995
One of the world's most popular long-distance planes
Seats between 300 and 380 passengers
Has flown around five million flights
Often used for nonstop flights of 16 hours or more
Prior to Asiana crash, only one fatal accident when a crew member died during a re-fuelling fire at Denver International Airport in September 2001