SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (AP) - Two flight attendants working in the back of an Asiana Airlines Flight 214 were ejected and survived when the plane slammed into a seawall and lost its tail end during a crash landing at San Francisco's airport. Both women were found on the runway, amid debris.
In a news conference Tuesday, National Transportation Safety Board officials didn't explain fully why the plane approached the notoriously difficult landing strip too low and slow, likely causing the crash.
NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said the pilot at the controls was only about halfway through his training on the Boeing 777 and was landing at the San Francisco airport for the first time ever.
Hersman also said his co-pilot was also on his first trip as a flight instructor.
The NTSB hasn't ruled anyone at fault in the crash, but the new details painted a fuller picture of an inexperienced crew that didn't react fast enough to warnings the plane was in trouble.
Audio recordings show pilots tried to correct the plane's speed and elevation only until seconds before hitting the seawall at the end of the runway, a calamitous impact that sent the fuselage bouncing and skidding across the airfield.
Here is what is known: 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.
The plane's airspeed has emerged as a key question mark in the investigation. All aircraft have minimum safe flying speeds that must be maintained or pilots risk a stall, which robs a plane of the lift it needs to stay airborne. Below those speeds, planes become unmaneuverable.
Because pilots, not the control tower, are responsible for the approach and landing, former NTSB Chairman James Hall said, the cockpit communications will be key to figuring out what went wrong.
"Good communication with the flight crew as well as the flight attendants is something I'm sure they're going to look at closely with this event," he said Tuesday. "Who was making decisions?"
Hall was on the transportation board when a Korean Airlines Boeing 747 crashed in Guam in 1997, an accident investigators blamed in part on an authoritarian cockpit culture that made newer pilots reluctant to challenge captains.
Since then, the industry has adopted broad training and requirements for crew resource management, a communications system or philosophy airline pilots are taught in part so that pilots who not at the controls feel free to voice any safety concerns or correct any unsafe behavior, even if it means challenging a more senior pilot or saying something that might give offense.
If any of the Asiana pilots "saw something out of parameters for a safe landing," they were obligated to speak up, said Cass Howell, an associate dean at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.
"There are dozens and dozens of accidents that were preventable had someone been able to speak up when they should have, but they were reluctant to do so for any number of reasons, including looking stupid or offending the captain," said Howell, a former Marine Corps pilot.
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.
"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.
Investigators want to nail down exactly what all four pilots were doing at all times.
"We're looking at what they were doing, and we want to understand why they were doing it,." Hersman said Monday. "We want to understand what they knew and what they understood."
It's unlikely there was a lot of chatter as the plane came in. The Federal Aviation Administration's "sterile cockpit" rules require pilots to refrain from any unnecessary conversation while the plane is below 10,000 feet so that their attention is focused on taking off or landing. What little conversation takes places is supposed to be necessary to safely completing the task at hand.
Choi Jeong-ho, a senior official for South Korea's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, told reporters in a briefing Tuesday in South Korea that investigators from both countries questioned two of the four Asiana pilots, Lee Gang-guk and Lee Jeong-min, on Monday. They planned to question the other two pilots and air controllers Tuesday.
Choi said recorded conversation between the pilots and air controllers at the San Francisco airport would be investigated, too.
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 said he will look at the efforts of airline employees to help injured passengers and their family members, visit with the NTSB and other organizations to apologize for the crash and try to meet injured passengers.
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 39 people remained hospitalized in seven different hospitals in San Francisco.
The flight originated in Shanghai, China, and stopped over in Seoul, South Korea, before making the nearly 11-hour trip to San Francisco.
A news release from the singer's publicist says the 54-year-old Travis was admitted to the hospital Sunday in Dallas and was in critical condition Monday evening.
Travis was being treated for viral cardiomyopathy (kahr-dee-oh-my-OP-uh-thee), a heart condition caused by a virus, according to his publicist, Kirt Webster.
The Mayo Clinic's website says the disease weakens and enlarges the heart muscle, making it harder for the heart to pump blood and carry it to the rest of the body. It can lead to heart failure. Treatments range from medications and surgically implanted devices to heart transplants.
The illness is a continuation of a tough run for Travis after a handful of recent high-profile appearances, including a performance during the Country Music Association Festival's nightly concert series and George Jones' funeral.
Long a popular figure in country music, the North Carolina-born singer has been trying to put his life back together after a series of embarrassing public incidents involving alcohol.
Travis pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated in January following his arrest last year when he was found naked after crashing his Pontiac Trans Am.
Travis was sentenced to two years of probation, fined $2,000 and given a 180-day suspended jail sentence. He was required to spend at least 30 days at an alcohol treatment facility and complete 100 hours of community service.
The multiple Grammy Award-winning singer rode his alternately mellow and majestic voice to stardom in the 1980s and `90s with hits like "Forever and Ever, Amen" and "Three Wooden Crosses."
A message of thanks. The three young Cleveland women recovered two months ago after being held captive for nearly a decade have posted a video on YouTube.
Amanda Berry says, "Everyone who has been there to support us, it's been a blessing to have such an outpouring of love and kindness. I'm getting stronger each day and having my privacy has helped immensely."
Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight all appear on the video. They say financial support from the public is allowing them to restart their lives. Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, the three women held against their will for a decade locked in a Cleveland, Ohio, home, posted a video on YouTube early this morning to offer thanks for the support they have received trying to rebuild their lives.
Each of the women appeared separately in the 3-minute, 33-second video, with Berry and Knight each making a brief statement, while DeJesus answered questions from someone off camera, followed by her father, Felix DeJesus, and then her mother, Nancy Ruiz.
Berry appears calm and happy in the video, which was filmed July 2. She smiles frequently, as she offers thanks not only for those who have helped her, but to those who have respected the three women's request for privacy.
"First and foremost, I want everyone to know how happy I am to be home with my family, my friends," she says. "It's been unbelievable. I want to thank everyone who has helped me and my family through this entire ordeal. Everyone who has been there to support us has been a blessing to have such an outpouring of love and kindness. I am getting stronger each day and having my privacy has helped immensely."
In response to a question of what she wants to say, DeJesus briefly answers that she would like to say thank you, before her father and then her mother speak at greater length.
Ruiz reflected on the love and support of neighbors, such as those who played such a big role in helping the three young women finally escape their captivity.
"Parents in general that do have a loved one missing, please do me one big favor. Count on your neighbors. Don't be afraid to ask for the help because help is available," she said.
Knight, who appears last, expresses confidence for the future and talks about how her faith in God has helped her.
"I may have been through hell and back, but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face and with my held high and my feet firmly on the ground," she says. "Walking hand-in-hand with my best friend, I will not let the situation define who I am. I will define the situation."
Kathy Joseph, an attorney for Knight, said in a statement about the video that the three young women wanted to "say thank you to people from Cleveland and across the world."
"People are recognizing them now as they go about in public, so they decided to put voices and faces to their heartfelt messages," Joseph said. "It was their decision to relay their thanks in this way to all of the many people who have offered support to them, for which they are extremely grateful."
James Wooley, attorney for Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, said the release of the video does not mean that the three women will begin making public appearances or granting interviews any time soon.
"It is important for everyone, especially the media, to understand that the three women still have a strong desire for privacy," Wooley said. "They do not want to talk about their ordeal with the media or anyone else. This cannot be stated strongly enough."
Ariel Castro, 52, the man accused of kidnapping the three women and keeping them inside his home, has pleaded not guilty to a 329-count indictment that includes charges of kidnapping and rape.
Castro, a former school bus driver, also is also accused of the aggravated murder of a fetus for allegedly forcibly causing an abortion in one of his victims that he is accused of impregnating, a charge that could potentially carry the death penalty.