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Asiana Airlines crash: Details point to short landing, possible pilot error

The NTSB and other agencies have begun investigating the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in San Francisco. Of the 307 passengers and crew, two were killed and 48 injured. Several dozen are unaccounted for, but many survived unhurt due to safety designs in the Boeing 777.

By Staff writer / July 6, 2013

An airliner passes the wreckage of an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 which crash landed at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, California July 6, 2013.

Stephen Lam/REUTERS

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UPDATE: 9:30 pm ET Authorities now say they have accounted for all but one of the passengers on Asiana Airlines Flight 214. The crash landing killed at least two people; 181 were transported to area hospitals, 49 with serious injuries. Asiana Airlines reported that 77 of the passengers were Korean citizens, 141 Chinese citizens, 61 US citizens, and 1 Japanese citizen.

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Federal investigators have begun looking for the cause of the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 while landing at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday.

What’s known so far points to circumstances – whether malfunction or pilot error – causing the tail of the Boeing 777 to strike the seawall at the end of the runway, then sliding several hundred yards.

There has been no official report on casualties, but reports from local first responders and hospital indicate two people killed and at least 70 injured. South Korea's Yonhap news agency in Seoul said the plane had carried 292 passengers (including 61 US citizens) and 16 crew members.

San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White reported Saturday that 48 passengers had been taken to local hospitals. Another 190 had “self evacuated,” Chief Hayes-White said, some with minor injuries.

“Not everyone has been accounted for,” San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee said at the same press briefing. Chief Hayes-White put that figure at about 60, indicating that the number of fatalities could rise.

Experts interviewed on television networks remarked on the robustness of the 777 aircraft allowing so many passengers to walk away from a catastrophic crash landing – including such safety features as multiple redundant systems, stronger seats, and the use of nontoxic materials in construction.

Also, the Federal Aviation Administration now requires new aircraft models to be equipped and staffed to allow all passengers to exit within 90 seconds. Until now, there has not been a fatal accident involving the 777.

"I'm fine. Most people are totally calm and trying to help. ... the majority of passengers seem OK,” passenger David Eun tweeted after the crash.

Aerial photos of the scene show the debris field leading from the seawall at the approach end of Runway 28 Left several hundred yards to the hulk of the aircraft.

This apparently confirms eyewitness reports that the aircraft approached the runway in a nose-high, tail-low attitude. The debris field indicated touchdown occurred much earlier on the runway than is typical.

Aviation experts speculate that the tail hit first, disabling flight controls and sending the 777 sliding and spinning up the runway as parts of the aircraft (the tail and parts of the wingtips) flew off. Shortly after the crash – and shortly after most passengers apparently were able to exit via emergency slides on the left side of the aircraft – the 777 began burning, likely from its remaining fuel.

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