WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) — Federal investigators began reviewing their report Tuesday about the fatal crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in San Francisco, saying they would make numerous recommendations to prevent future crashes.
"Our goal in this investigation is to help prevent similar accidents in the future," said Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. "In this instance, the flight crew over-relied on automated systems that they did not understand."
The board is meeting to determine the probable cause of the crash July 6, 2013, and make recommendations to avoid another. The crash killed three people and injured 187, out of 307 aboard the flight from Seoul.
Investigators have already said the Boeing 777 was flying lower and slower than intended when it slammed into the seawall at the end of the runway, spun around and burst into flames.
While Asiana acknowledged the pilots were flying too slow and too low, there is a dispute between the airline and Boeing about why that happened.
Asiana cited "inconsistencies" with the autothrottle that led pilots to believe it would maintain the plane's speed after some adjustments in the autopilot, when in fact the engines were idling in "hold" mode.
But Boeing said the plane was functioning as expected and "did not contribute to the accident," and that the pilots should have aborted the landing when they realized things were awry and tried again.
The hold mode is widely used in Boeing wide-body planes. But board members offered different perspectives on the pilot's confusion dealing with the wakeup feature that was introduced about 18 years in the 777.
Robert Sumwalt, a board member who previously was a 24-year airline pilot, said confusion about the autothrottle was widespread in the industry and not well known. He said the pilots were experienced, but expected the autothrottle to work differently than it did.
The flying pilot, Lee Kang Kuk, was landing for the first time at San Francisco and he had spent just 43 hours flying the 777, although he had clocked 9,684 hours on a variety of other jets. Another pilot serving as an instructor on the flight, Lee Jung Min, had spent 3,208 hours flying 777s out of 12,307 total flying hours.
"I personally don't believe this is a case of crew competency," Sumwalt said. "It was not just this pilot who misunderstood. I think this problem is a lot more widespread than we may have thought."
The disputed hold mode for the autothrottle was common among Boeing wide-body planes for decades.
"This particular feature, if you will, has been on Boeing airplanes for 30-some years," Board member Earl Weener said.
Capt. Roger Cox, the investigator who studied operations in the crash, said the Asiana pilot was surprised by the throttle not waking up.
"He used the word 'astonished,'" Cox said.
Other facets of the investigation will deal with surviving a crash. One of the fatalities, 16-year-old Ye Meng Yuan, was run over by a fire truck after being thrown from the plane. And two of the plane's emergency slides deployed into the cabin, complicating the evacuation.