The Asiana Airlines captain who crashed a Boeing 777 at San Francisco International Airport in July told investigators he was “very concerned” about attempting a visual approach because the runway’s automatic landing aids were out of service due to construction, according to an investigative report released Wednesday.
Lee Kang Kuk, a 46-year-old pilot who was landing the big jet for his first time at San Francisco, “stated it was very difficult to perform a visual approach with a heavy airplane.” The jet crash landed after approaching low and slow in an accident that left three dead and more than 200 injured, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
A visual approach involves lining the jet up for landing by looking through the windshield, as well as using numerous automated cues.
The investigative report was released at the start of a daylong NTSB hearing into the accident.
“In this hearing, we will learn about the facts of the crash, but we will also learn about the factors that enabled so many to walk away,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman, opening the hearing. “We will focus not only on the human machine interface in highly automated aircraft, but also on emergency response.”
Though Lee was an experienced pilot, he was a trainee on the Boeing 777.
NTSB investigator Bill English said Lee had less than 45 hours experience in the Boeing 777 and it was his first trip to San Francisco since 2004.
Lee told investigators that he realized others had been safely landing at San Francisco without the glide slope indicator, an array of antennas that transmits a signal into the cockpit, helping ensure the plane is landing correctly.
That system was out of service while the runway was expanded, and has since been restarted.
But Lee also told investigators he was “not so confident” about his knowledge of the plane’s auto flight system.
When asked if he was concerned about his ability to perform the visual approach, Lee said “very concerned, yeah.”
Lee said he told his instructors about his concerns in the flight’s planning stages. He told investigators that as he realized his approach was off, he was worried he might “fail his flight and would be embarrassed.”
Another Asiana pilot who recently flew with Lee told investigators that he was not sure if the trainee captain was making normal progress and that he did not perform well during a trip two days before the accident. That captain described Lee as “not well organized or prepared,” according to the investigative report.
According to the NTSB’s transcript of the Asiana plane’s cockpit voice recorder, the Korean crew did not comment on the jet’s low approach until it reached 200 feet above ground.
“It’s low,” an unnamed crewman said at 11:27 am.
In an instant, the plane began to shake.
At 20 feet, another crewman broke in: “Go around,” he said.
It was too late. At impact, someone yelled: “Oh!”
Multiple alarms chimed in the cockpit as the crewmen sat stunned.
Lee acknowledged to investigators that it took him 20 to 30 seconds to order an evacuation from the shattered jet.
San Francisco Fire Department Assistant Deputy Chief Dale Carnes is also scheduled to talk at Wednesday’s hearing about how a fire truck racing toward the burning plane ran over a survivor on the tarmac.
Footage taken after the crash showed a fire truck running over 16-year-old Ye Meng Yuan while she was lying on the tarmac covered with fire-retardant foam. The San Mateo County coroner later ruled that she was killed by the truck.
Attorneys representing some of the more than 60 crash victims suing the airline and Boeing Co. plan to attend the hearing. Asiana Airlines is also offering $10,000 to each of the surviving passengers, a payout the airline says is not a settlement and does not prevent passengers from suing the airline.
The hearing was originally scheduled to run for two days, starting Tuesday, but it was postponed