SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

July 9, 2013

Crash investigators turn their focus to cockpit decisions

(Continued)

Eight seconds later, with the speed still falling, Hersman said, the throttles were moved forward, an apparent attempt by the pilot to increase speed. But it was too little, too late.

Five seconds later, at 50 percent power, speed began to increase.

A key question raised by the NTSB’s account is why two experienced pilots — the pilot flying the plane and another supervising pilot in the other seat — apparently didn’t notice the plane’s airspeed problem.

Part of the answer to that question may lie in whether the pilot flying, after switching off the autopilot, still had the plane’s autothrottle engaged during the descent.

Aviation safety experts have longed warned that an overreliance on automation is contributing to an erosion in pilots’ stick-and-rudder flying skills. It’s too soon to say if that was the case in the Asiana crash, but it’s something NTSB investigators will be exploring, they said.

“It sounds like they let the airplane get slow and it came out from under them,” said John Cox, a former US Airways pilot and former Air Line Pilots Association air crash investigator.

“There are two real big questions here: Why did they let the airplane get that slow, and where was the non-flying pilot, the monitoring pilot, who should have been calling out ‘airspeed, airspeed, airspeed,’ “ Cox said.

More than 180 people aboard the plane went to hospitals with injuries. But remarkably, 305 of 307 passengers and crew survived, and more than a third didn’t even require hospitalization. Only a small number were critically injured.

The passengers included 141 Chinese, 77 South Koreans, 64 Americans, three Canadians, three Indians, one Japanese, one Vietnamese and one person from France.

Three firefighters — and two police officers without safety gear — rushed onto the plane to help evacuate trapped passengers, including one who was trapped under a collapsed bulkhead.

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