By Martha Mendoza
The Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO — As Flight 214 descended over San Francisco Bay, both Asiana Airlines pilots were trying something new.
In the left seat of the cockpit sat Lee Gang-kuk, a 46-year-old pilot with 35 hours of experience flying a Boeing 777 who was landing the big jet for his first time at San Francisco International Airport. At his right was Lee Jeong-Min, a trainer making his first trip as an instructor pilot.
While the two men had years of aviation experience, this mission involved unfamiliar duties, and it was the first time they had flown together. The flight came to a tragic end when the airliner, which came in too low and too slow, crash-landed on Saturday, killing two passengers and injuring many others as it skittered and spun 100 feet.
Investigators trying to piece together what went wrong are looking at the pairing of the pilots, who were assigned to work together through a tightly regulated system developed after several deadly crashes in the 1980s were blamed in part on inexperience in the cockpit.
They will also be examining their working relationship, said National Transportation Safety Board chairman Deborah Hersman.
“We are certainly interested to see if there are issues where there are challenges to crew communication, if there’s an authority break in where people won’t challenge one another,” she said.
Pilots are trained to communicate their concerns openly, she said, “to make sure that a junior pilot feels comfortable challenging a senior pilot and to make sure the senior pilot welcomes feedback in a cockpit environment from all members of the crew and considers it.”
The NTSB has now concluded interviews with all four pilots who were aboard the plane.
Hersman said Wednesday the pilot trainee told investigators he was blinded by a light at about 500 feet, which would have been 34 seconds before impact and the point at which the airliner began to slow and drop precipitously. She said lasers have not been ruled out. It was unclear, however, whether the flash might have played a role in the crash.
Hersman also said that a third pilot in the jump seat of the cockpit told investigators he was warning them their speed was too slow as they approached the runway.