South San Francisco, Calif. • Two flight attendants working in the back of an Asiana Airlines Flight 214 were ejected and survived when the plane slammed into a seawall and lost its tail end during a crash landing at San Francisco's airport. Both women were found on the runway, amid debris.
In a news conference Tuesday, National Transportation Safety Board officials didn't explain fully why the plane approached the notoriously difficult landing strip too low and slow, likely causing the crash.
NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said the pilot at the controls was only about halfway through his training on the Boeing 777 and was landing at the San Francisco airport for the first time ever.
Hersman also said his co-pilot was also on his first trip as a flight instructor.
The NTSB hasn't ruled anyone at fault in the crash, but the new details painted a fuller picture of an inexperienced crew that didn't react fast enough to warnings the plane was in trouble.
Audio recordings show pilots tried to correct the plane's speed and elevation only until seconds before hitting the seawall at the end of the runway, a calamitous impact.
The plane's airspeed has emerged as a key question mark in the investigation. All aircraft have minimum safe flying speeds that must be maintained or pilots risk a stall, which robs a plane of the lift it needs to stay airborne. Below those speeds, planes become unmaneuverable.
Because pilots, not the control tower, are responsible for the approach and landing, former NTSB Chairman James Hall said, the cockpit communications will be key to figuring out what went wrong.
More than 180 people aboard the plane went to hospitals with injuries. But remarkably, more than a third did not even require hospitalization.
The flight originated in Shanghai, China, and stopped over in Seoul, South Korea, before making the nearly 11-hour trip to San Francisco.