The Asiana Pilot Had Only 43 Hours of 777 Experience

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
July 8 2013 10:27 AM

The Asiana Pilot Who Crash-Landed Had Only 43 Hours of 777 Experience

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In this handout photo provided by the National Transportation Safety Board, the wreckage of Asiana Airlines flight 214 lies near the runway following yesterday's crash, on July 7, 2013 in San Francisco, California.

Photo by NTSB via Getty Images

The ongoing investigation into what caused Asiana Flight 214 to crash-land at the San Francisco airport over the weekend appears increasingly to be focused on human error—specifically that of a pilot who was still learning the ins and outs of piloting the Boeing 777 aircraft. Here's the Washington Post with the latest details about what went wrong in the moments before the plane hit the tarmac:

The South Korean jetliner ... was flying far too slowly to reach the runway and began to stall just before the pilot gunned his engines in a futile effort to abort the landing, the National Transportation Safety Board said. ... [NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P.] Hersman said the cockpit recorder revealed that seven seconds before impact there was a call to increase the plane’s speed. Three seconds later a “stick shaker” — a violent vibration of the control yoke intended to be a warning to the pilot — indicated the plane was about to stall. Just 1 1/2 seconds before impact, a crew member called out to abort the landing.
Hersman said her agency was a long way — perhaps months — from reaching a conclusion on what caused the crash. But with Asiana insisting there was no mechanical failure, the data from the flight recorders showing the plane far below appropriate speed and the fact that the pilots were controlling the plane in what is called a “visual approach,” the available evidence Sunday suggested the crew was at fault.
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More specifically, the attention appears to be on Lee Gang-guk, the pilot in control of the plane who had only limited experience behind the stick of a 777. An Asiana spokeswoman, Lee Hyomin, told the Associated Press that Lee Gang-guk had nearly 10,000 hours flying other planes but only 43 hours in the 777. A second company spokesperson, Hyo Min Lee, painted a similar picture, telling the Los Angeles Times that the pilot was still "in training" on the 777. Perhaps adding to the pilot's difficulties was the fact that he had little experience landing at the San Fran airport. Hyo Min Lee told the Times that Lee Gang-guk had previously landed there but "not much" with the Boeing 777. She wouldn't specify exactly what that meant. Lee Hyomin, meanwhile, told the AP that Lee Gang-guk had never landed a 777 at SFO before.

While Lee Gang-guk appears to have been the one in control of the plane when it crash-landed, the AP reports that there were three other pilots on board. One of those pilots, Lee Jeong-min, had nearly 13,000 hours of flying experience, including more than 3,200 on the 777, according to South Korea's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. Asiana says that Lee Jeong-min was acting as the deputy pilot, and was tasked with helping Lee Gang-guk grow comfortable flying the twin-engine passenger plane. According to Reuters, however, Saturday's flight was Lee Jeong-min's first as trainer.

Somewhat remarkably, the death toll from the crash-landing remains at two, although at least eight other passengers were in critical condition as of last night. [For those about to board a flight, we offer a few words of reassurance: Passenger airplanes are amazingly safe.]

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

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