(SAN FRANCISCO) — Flight attendants on board Asiana Airlines flight 214 were initially told by the pilot not to evacuate the airplane, after it crash landed, and made an announcement to passengers to stay in their seats, federal officials said Wednesday.
It was not until 90 seconds later, when a flight attendant saw flames, that the doors of the Boeing 777 were opened and passengers and crew began evacuating, National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said at a news conference on Wednesday evening.
“Hindsight is 20/20,” she said. “We need to understand what they were thinking, what their procedures are, whether they complied with these, whether that evacuation proceeded in a timely manner.”
Additionally, Hersman said three flight attendants had been ejected from the plane on impact. At a Tuesday news conference, it had been reported that two flight attendants had been flung onto the runway.
While six of the 12-member flight crew remain hospitalized, those who have been released, including a woman in a wheelchair, made a brief appearance Wednesday afternoon at San Francisco International Airport but were too distraught to speak.
With their heads bowed and some weeping, the flight attendants surrounded cabin manager Lee Yoon Hye, who made a brief statement through a translator.
“I hope all the families who have suffered losses from this accident to recover as quickly as possible and they’re in my prayers,” she said.
Meanwhile, Hersman said NTSB investigators are hoping to interview the remaining flight attendants as they probe what caused the crash.
She said the pilot of the plane told investigators he was temporarily blinded by a light at 500 feet as he approached the airport; however she declined to speculate on what could have caused the problem.
“We need to understand exactly what that is,” she said, calling it “a temporary issue.”
Federal investigators have yet to indicate whether the crash can be attributed to pilot error, while they continue to analyze data recovered from the plane’s black boxes.
Investigators have said Flight 214 was flying “significantly below” its target speed during approach when the crew tried to abort the landing just before the plane crashed onto the runway.
The investigation into the cause of the crash has noted that the pilot in charge of the flight was in his ninth training flight on the Boeing 777 and was 11 flights short of the worldwide standard to get licensed, according to company officials.
Pilot Lee Kang-kook had 43 hours of flight experience on the Boeing 777 and Saturday was his first time landing at the airport with that kind of aircraft, Asiana Airlines spokeswoman Lee Hyo-min said Monday at a news conference in Seoul.
Asiana Airlines Flight 214, which originated in Seoul, was carrying 291 passengers and 16 crew members when it crashed on the airport runway on Saturday and burst into flames. Two people were killed and more than 180 were initially taken to local hospitals for treatment.
The two fatalities were identified as Wang Linjia and Ye Mengyuan, both 16 years old and students from China. The students had been in the rear of the aircraft, Hersman said, where many of the most seriously injured passengers were seated.
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