New details in the accident investigation that were revealed Tuesday by National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman were not conclusive about the cause of Saturday's crash. But they raised potential areas of focus: Was there a mistake made in setting the automatic speed control, did it malfunction or were the pilots not fully aware of what the plane was doing?
One of the most puzzling aspects of the crash has been why the wide-body Boeing 777 jet came in far too low and slow, clipping its landing gear and then its tail on a rocky seawall just short the runway. The crash killed two of the 307 people and injured scores of others, most not seriously.
Among those injured were two flight attendants in the back of the plane who survived despite being thrown onto the runway when the plane slammed into the seawall and the tail broke off.
The autothrottle was set for 157 mph and the pilots assumed it was controlling the plane's airspeed, Hersman said. However, the autothrottle was only "armed" or ready for activation, she said.
Hersman said the pilot at the controls, identified by Korean authorities as Lee Gang-guk, was only about halfway through his training on the Boeing 777 and it was his first time landing that type of aircraft at the San Francisco airport. And the co-pilot, identified as Lee Jeong-Min, was on his first trip as a flight instructor.
Two of the four pilots were questioned Monday and the other two and air traffic controllers were interviewed Tuesday, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport officials in South Korea. The ministry hadn't requested any criminal investigation because a probe is underway to determine the cause of the crash.
In the 777, turning the autothrottle on is a two-step process — first it is armed then it is engaged, Boeing pilots said.
Choi Jeong-ho, a senior official at South Korea's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, said investigators confirmed the auto throttle was in an armed position, and an exact analysis on whether the automatic throttle system worked will be possible after an analysis on the plane's black box.
Hersman didn't say whether the Asiana's autothrottle was engaged.
Bob Coffman, an American Airlines captain who has flown 777s, said the only way he could think of for the Asiana plane to slow as quickly as the NTSB has described would be if the autothrottle had somehow shifted into the idle mode.
"There is no way to get from a normal airspeed and normal position at 500 feet to an abnormally slow airspeed at 300 feet unless there wasn't enough thrust either deliberately or inadvertently," he said.
Only moments before the crash did the training captain realize the autothrottle wasn't controlling the plane's speed, Hersman said.
"This is one of the two hallmarks of complexity and challenge in the industry right now," said Doug Moss, an Airbus A320 a pilot for a major U.S. airline and an aviation safety consultant in Torrance, Calif. "It's automation confusion because from what Deborah Hersman said, it appears very likely the pilots were confused as to what autothrottle and pitch mode the airplane was in. It's very likely they believed the autothrottles were on when in fact they were only armed."
Their last second efforts to rev the plane back up and abort the landing failed, although numerous survivors report hearing the engines roar just before impact.
"We just seemed to be flying in way too low. Last couple seconds before it happened the engines really revved into high gear. Just waaah! Like the captain was saying 'oh no, we gotta get out of here.' And then, boom! The back end just lifted up, just really jolted everybody in their seats," said crash survivor Elliot Stone, who owns a martial arts studio in Scotts Valley.
Passenger Ben Levy noticed as the plane approached the airport the aircraft was flying very low near the water but said he dismissed concerns until he saw water from the Bay splashing at his window and he felt the engine "go full power" in an apparent attempt to lift the plane.
"That's when I realized this was totally wrong," Levy said.
Then, the plane crashed, and the passengers moved quickly to leave the plane, but in an orderly manner.
"People were not rushing out fighting for their lives," he said. "They were like, 'OK, let's be orderly here. Let's get out fast but let's not step (onto) each other.'"
While in the U.S., drug and alcohol tests are standard procedure after air accidents, this is not required for foreign pilots and Hersman said the Asiana pilots had not undergone any testing.
A final determination on the cause of the crash is months away, and Hersman cautioned against drawing any conclusions based on the information revealed so far:
Seven seconds before impact, someone in the cockpit asked for more speed after apparently noticing that the jet was flying far slower than its recommended landing speed. A few seconds later, the yoke began to vibrate violently, an automatic warning telling the pilot the plane is losing lift and in imminent danger of an aerodynamic stall. One and a half seconds before impact came a command to abort the landing.
There's been no indication, from verbal calls or mechanical issues, that an emergency was ever declared by pilots. Most airlines would require all four pilots to be present for the landing, the time when something is most likely to go wrong, experienced pilots said. In addition to the two pilots, a third was "monitoring" the landing from a jumpseat, while a fourth was in the rear of the cabin.
"If there are four pilots there, even if you are sitting on a jump seat, that's something you watch — the airspeed and the descent profile," said John Cox, a former US Airways pilot and former Air Line Pilots Association accident investigator.
The Air Line Pilots Association, the world's largest pilots union, criticized Hersman for fueling speculation that the crash is the result of pilot error before all the facts have been determined.
"The NTSB's release of incomplete, out-of-context information has fueled rampant speculation about the cause of the accident," the union said in a statement Tuesday. "The field phase of the investigation is barely three days old, and the pilots on the flight deck, at the controls of the aircraft, had little opportunity to provide vital information as to what exactly happened during the event before disclosing data recorded during the last moments of the flight."
Hersman said the board was following its usual pattern of trying to be transparent by releasing information as it is known.
In addition, authorities were reviewing the initial rescue efforts after fire officials acknowledged that one of their trucks might have run over one of the two Chinese teenagers killed in the crash. The students, Wang Linjia and Ye Mengyuan, were part of a larger group headed for a Christian summer camp with dozens of classmates.
Asiana President Yoon Young-doo arrived in San Francisco from South Korea on Tuesday morning, fighting his way through a pack of journalists outside customs.
He met with and apologized to injured passengers, family members and survivors. But Yoon said he can't meet with the Asiana pilots because no outside contact with them is allowed until the investigation is completed.
More than 180 people aboard the plane went to hospitals with injuries. But remarkably, more than a third didn't even require hospitalization.
The passengers included 141 Chinese, 77 South Koreans, 64 Americans, three Canadians, three Indians, one Japanese, one Vietnamese and one person from France.
South Korea officials said 22 people remained hospitalized, including 10 Chinese, four Americans and three South Koreans.
The flight originated in Shanghai and stopped over in Seoul before making the nearly 11-hour trip to San Francisco.
___ Lowy reported from Washington, D.C. Associated Press writers Jason Dearen, Terry Collins, Paul Elias, Lisa Leff and Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul also contributed to this report.
Julia Merfeld, a 21-year-old Michigan woman, is set to be sentenced on July 30 after pleading guilty in June to soliciting the murder of her husband, Jacob.
Recorded footage of Julia Merfeld soliciting an undercover cop posing as a hit man has surfaced on the Internet and has shocked viewers for how calm, cool and collected she is while planning the murder.
“When I first decided to do this … it’s not that we weren’t getting along,” she says on the video. “But … terrible as it sounds, it was easier than divorcing him.
"You know, I didn’t have to worry about the judgment of my family, I didn’t have to worry about breaking his heart, all that stuff like this. It’s, like, how I [could have] a clean getaway.”
Furthermore, Merfeld told the fake hit man he’d be paid $50,000 out of the 27-year-old husband’s $400,000 life insurance policy that she would receive in the case of his death. She said she would pay him in a series of weekly $9,000 installments to avoid suspicion from her bank.
Suspicions of Merfeld's intention to carry out the plans were first raised after she told coworker Carlos Ramos she wanted her husband killed. Ramos originally thought she was joking and hoped the topic would never come up again, he told local ABC affiliate WZZM 13. But when she continued to talk about the plan in more detail, Ramos made the decision to go to the police, who set up the sting with the fake hit man.
Merfeld and the undercover Michigan State Police detective met two times – first to discuss the murder plot and once more so that she could show him directions to her house, a map of the outside, a floor plan and a photograph of her husband.
While Merfeld will reportedly be sentenced to a minimum of six years, her husband and intended victim asked that she get no jail time at all, the sentencing judge said in court at the time of her guilty plea.
Instead, Chief Muskegon County Circuit Judge William C. Marietti set her minimum sentence at six years. The maximum can be anything up to life in prison, depending on Marietti’s decision at Merfeld's sentencing July 30.
MIAMI (AP) - Documents show a man linked to the murder case against former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez told police Hernandez admitted firing the fatal shots.
Carlos Ortiz reportedly told Massachusetts investigators that another man, Ernest Wallace, said Hernandez admitted shooting Odin Lloyd in an industrial park near Hernandez's Massachusetts home.
The documents were filed in court by the Miramar, Fla., police department to justify a search of Wallace's home in that city.
The documents also say that while investigating Lloyd's killing, police did searches in Bristol, Conn., that turned up a vehicle wanted in connection with a July 2012 double homicide in Boston.
Police say the vehicle had been rented in the name of Hernandez.
Hernandez's legal team did not return email messages Tuesday.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was "argumentative" and slammed the door on police during their first encounter following his friend's death, according to court records.
He also called his girlfriend's cellphone and stopped her from speaking with police after they pulled her over and told her the friend, Odin Lloyd, was dead.
Hernandez was later accused of orchestrating Lloyd's death in an industrial park near Hernandez's home.
According to an affidavit attached to search warrants unsealed Tuesday, Hernandez approached police after he noticed them parked outside his North Attleboro home on June 17, the day Lloyd's body was found.
Police said they asked him about an SUV he had rented. Hernandez told them he rented it for Lloyd and had last seen him in Boston the day before, the documents said.
The affidavit then said Hernandez became argumentative, asked "what's with all the questions?" and locked the door of his house behind him.
He then returned with his attorney's business card, and didn't respond when police told him they were investigating a death.
"Mr. Hernandez slammed the door and relocked it behind him," the records read. "Mr. Hernandez did not ask officers whose death was being investigated. Mr. Hernandez's demeanor did not indicate any concern for the death of any person."
Hernandez came out about 10 minutes later and agreed to be questioned at a police station, according to the documents.
Hernandez is being held without bail after pleading not guilty to murder in the killing of Lloyd, whose bullet-ridden body was found in an industrial area near Hernandez's North Attleborough home.
His attorneys have said the evidence against him is circumstantial and that Hernandez is anxious to clear his name.
Eight search warrants were unsealed Tuesday after news organizations sought access to the records.
The search warrants reveal the breadth of the investigation, with authorities scouring through everything from Hernandez's house to the contents of his team locker, which the Patriots had emptied into a container.
Among the items police seized were a rifle and ammunition found in Hernandez's home.
The records also detailed a discussion police had with Hernandez's girlfriend, Shayanna Jenkins, after she dropped him off at the police station.
Police said they pulled her over and she immediately burst into tears when she heard Lloyd was dead. She later told them she had last seen him two days earlier, according to the documents.
She also said she had been out to a Father's Day dinner with Hernandez on June 16, but they returned home early and she went to bed. She said Hernandez was away that night and she didn't know who he was with.
The records said Jenkins then received a call from Hernandez, who told her his agent had advised him to tell her not to speak to police.
The documents also offer some details about June 14, the Friday before the shooting, when prosecutors say Hernandez and Lloyd went to a Boston nightclub, Rumor. Prosecutors say Hernandez orchestrated Lloyd's shooting because he was upset at him for talking to certain people at the club.
One witness who works in the area near Rumor told police he saw Hernandez entering the club with what appeared to be a handgun, the documents said.
And Lloyd's girlfriend said Lloyd told her he was out with Hernandez that night and they didn't come home because they'd gotten drunk and slept elsewhere, according to the records.
Also Tuesday, a man who faces a gun charge in the case agreed to remain in jail until a hearing next month.
Carlos Ortiz, 27, appeared in Attleboro District Court, where a hearing to determine if he is a danger to the community was scheduled for Aug. 14. If Ortiz is determined to be dangerous, he can be held without bail for 90 days.
Ortiz is from Hernandez's hometown of Bristol, Conn., and authorities say he was with Hernandez when they picked up Lloyd the night he was killed.
Another man who was with Hernandez that night, according to police, pleaded not guilty Monday to an accessory to murder charge in the case. Ernest Wallace, 41, of Miramar, Fla., will be held without bail until another hearing on July 22, under an agreement between his attorney and prosecutors.