After ten hours inflight, landing at San Fran was a first for pilot

The pilot of Asiana Airlines, Lee Gang-guk, was landing the behemoth of a plane after 10 hours of flying from Seoul, Korea. Photo: NTSB

WASHINGTON, July 8, 2013 – Flying is a precision art.  Getting a plane the size of a Boeing 777 onto the ground safely is no easy task.  

The pilot of Asiana Airlines, Lee Gang-guk, was landing the behemoth of a plane after flying from Seoul, Korea. Lee Gang-guk, who has significant flight time in other jets, had less than 43 hours in the cockpit of the Boeing 777-200. 

SEE RELATED: Asiana Airlines plane crash lands at San Francisco Airport (Video)

Co-pilot Lee Jeong-min has 3,220 hours of flying experience with the Boeing 777 and a total of 12,387 hours of flying experience. Lee Jeong-min was helping his colleague with the landing. In total there were four pilots on the plane, working in rotating shifts during the 10-and-a-half hour flight from Seoul.

Pilot Lee Gang-guk had flown a Boeing 777 nine previous times to other airports, but was flying the jet to SFO for the first time, Asiana Airlines spokeswoman Lee Hyo-min told ABC news:

“He is a veteran pilot with almost 10,000 hours on other aircrafts like the 747,” Lee Hyomin, spokesperson for Asiana Airlines told ABC news. “He was in the process of getting a license for the new 777.”

An experienced Boeing 777 pilot mentor, in accordance with world standard, flew right seat, the spokeswoman said.

SEE RELATED: Raw videos of Asiana Airlines Flight 214

As the landing is reviewed, and reviewed again, federal investigators are reporting that the pilots’ approach was normal.  The pilots received clearance from air traffic control to land visually, meaning they relied on his visual assessment of conditions for landing, versus instrument flight (IFR) landing. 

A the time of landing, visibility is 10 miles with southwest winds at seven knots. Seven seconds from touchdown the crew asks to increase its air speed. 

National Traffic Safety Board chairwoman Deborah Hersman says the plane came in well below the approach speed of 137 knots that crew members had discussed.

Four seconds before landing the stick shaker, a yolk the pilots hold, begins shaking, indicating the plane could stall.

One and a-half seconds before landing the crew calls to abort the landing and go around for another try.

Then the plane hit the seawall. The controller declares an emergency. The pilots talk to air traffic control and emergency vehicles are deployed.

Many things went wrong.

Asiana Airlines Flight 214 was carrying more than 300 people when it crashed. The tail was torn off as the plane landed short of the runway, the tail hitting the seawall, causing the plane to skid down the runway, and bursting into flames.

The crash of the Boeing 777 killed two young students, injuring 181 people. At least 22 are in critical condition, according top hospital officials. 

Two Chinese teenagers who died in an Asiana Airlines plane crash in San Francisco were student leaders who excelled in their studies and in the arts — one was a calligrapher and the other a pianist.

Wang Linjia, 16, and Ye Mengyuan, 17, were students at Jiangshan Middle School in eastern China. The girls were traveling  as part of a group of 29 students and five teachers on a summer camp program organized by the school to visit universities in California.

San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said senior San Francisco Fire Department officials notified him and his staff at the crash site Saturday that one of the two 16-year-old Chinese girls who died from the crash may have been struck on the runaway.

“We were made aware of the possibility at the scene that day,” Foucrault said, adding that he did not get a thorough look at the victims on Saturday to know if they had external injuries.

But Hersman told the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday that the girl found on the side of the airplane had injuries consistent with having been run over.

“As it possibly could have happened, based on the injuries sustained, it could have been one of our vehicles that added to the injuries, or another vehicle,” she told The Chronicle. “That could have been something that happened in the chaos. It will be part of our investigation.”

While speaking to reporters at San Francisco General Hospital on Sunday, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee called the questions being raised about a rescue vehicle possibly striking one of the victims “unsubstantiated.”

“It was very, very hectic when they arrived minutes after the plane came to rest and there was smoke coming out, and people were trying to get out as quickly as they could,” Lee said.

Along with the spinal fractures, head trauma and abdominal injuries common in plane crashes, some survivors of the Asiana Airlines plane crash also had an unexpected rash all over their bodies, doctors at one San Francisco hospital found.

Many patients admitted to San Francisco General Hospital were covered in what was characterized as “road rash,” a phenomenon more closely tied to people in motorcycle crashes when they aren’t wearing leathers, San Francisco General Hopsital’s chief of surgery Dr. Margaret Knudson said.

“It appears that they were dragged over something,” she said.

Fifty one patients are at area hospitals after surviving the crash. Eight patients remained in critical condition.

Six of the patients, including one young girl, are receiving care at San Francisco General Hospital, Knudson said.

Many patients suffered severe abdominal bleeding that Knudson said might have been caused by the plane’s seat belts. At least two individuals with spinal fractures were paralyzed and others suffered head trauma.

The hospital treated a total of 53 patients from the crash – more than any other hospital in the area. Twenty seven of those patients were adults ranging in age from 20 to 76, and 26 children received care as well. Of the 53, only 19 patients remained at the hospital as of this afternoon.

Some passengers sustained broken ribs or fractured sternums from the crash, Knudson said. Others experienced minor burns.

The majority of the passengers who were conscious enough to speak with doctors said they were sitting in the back of the plane, according to Knudson.

Even with the horrific violence of this crash, the Boeing 777 enhanced its reputation as lives were saved by the simple fact that the fuselage held its shape, protecting the people inside the plane. 

Had the fuselage fallen apart, many more people would have died.  

Another key to the survival was the ability of the passengers to exit the plane quickly.

One lesson to take away from the crash is that passengers need to know where their exit is. Actually pivot your head to see where the flight crew is pointing out the exits. Travel with important documents, passport, credit card and some money on your body, so that you can quickly deplane without worrying about grabbing a purse or brief case.

Items can be replaced. People cannot. If you delay getting out to retrieve a bag, you may block someone else’s exit route, with someone behind you dying. 

So get up, get off. Quickly. Help others move quickly. 

The B777 aircraft is built so that everybody can get off the plane within 90 seconds even if half the doors are inoperable. As in the Asiana crash, not all the doors may be operable, so its important to know where the doors are throughout the plane, not just the one nearest your seat.

Finally, remember always to follow crew instructions and directions.

(Associated Press, CNN and ABC News contributed to this reporting)

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Jacquie Kubin

Jacquie Kubin is an award winning journalist that began writing in 1993 following a successful career in marketing and advertising in Chicago.  She started Communities Digital News in 2009 as a way to adapt to the changing online journalism marketing place.  Jacquie is President and Managing Editor of Communities Digital News, LLC and a frequent contributor to The Washington Times Communities as well as a member of the National Association of Professional Woman, New American Foundation and the Society of Professional Journalist.  Email Jacquie here

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