SAN FRANCISCO — Nearly a week after Asiana Flight 214 collided with a rocky seawall just short of its intended airport runway, investigators have pieced together an outline of the event — what should have been a smooth landing by seasoned pilots turning into a disaster.
With each new bit of information, the picture emerging is of pilots who were supposed to be closely monitoring the plane's airspeed, but who didn't realize until too late that the aircraft was dangerously low and slow. Nothing disclosed so far by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators indicates any problems with the Boeing 777's engines or the functioning of its computers and automated systems.
"The first thing that's taught to a pilot is to look at the airspeed indicator. It is the most important instrument in the cockpit," said Lee Collins, a pilot with 29 years and 18,000 hours experience flying a variety of airliners. "Airspeed is everything. You have airspeed, you live. You don't, you die."
Investigators are still trying to nail down hundreds of details about the crash last Saturday that killed two people and injured dozens. NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman has cautioned against reaching conclusions.
But investigators already know a great deal. They've listened to the Boeing 777's voice recorder, which captured the last two hours of conversation in the cockpit. They've downloaded its flight data recorder, which captured 1,400 indicators of what was happening on the plane, from the temperatures inside and out to the positions of cockpit instruments.
The flight's four pilots have been interviewed, as have passengers and dozens of witnesses. Air traffic control recordings and video of the flight's last moments, including the crash itself, have been examined.
Here's what investigators have revealed about a Seoul-to-San Francisco flight that was normal until its last minutes, when the wide-body jet carrying 307 people rapidly lost altitude: