Cockpit automation under scrutiny in Asiana crash probe

Cockpit automation under scrutiny in Asiana crash probe

WASHINGTON - US air accident investigators hold a hearing Wednesday into the role that sophisticated cockpit automation might have played in the fiery crash of a South Korean airliner in San Francisco.

Three passengers died when Asiana Airlines Flight 214 clipped a seawall, skidded out of control and burst into flames upon landing after an otherwise routine flight from Seoul on July 6.

Another 182 passengers and crew aboard the Boeing 777 were injured - and first indications suggested the pilots approached the runway at well below the optimum speed for landing.

Wednesday's nearly 12-hour hearing was supposed to be a two-day affair, but its scheduled start Tuesday was postponed due to a federal government shutdown prompted by wintry weather in Washington.

Keith Holloway of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the hearing will "gather additional factual information" as the federal agency moves closer to a final report on the first fatal accident involving a Boeing 777.

"Typically it takes about 12 months to complete a full investigation," he told AFP. "This is just one phase, a fact-gathering stage, of the investigation."

None of the four pilots, 12 flight attendants and 291 passengers, many of them South Korean and Chinese nationals, are lined up to testify.

Instead the hearing at an NTSB conference centre in downtown Washington will hear expert testimony on such issues as cockpit automation in the Boeing 777 and the training of Asiana pilots in its operation.

It will also dwell on the effects of automation on pilot performance in the moments prior to an accident, airport emergency response and the crashworthiness of aircraft interiors.

All three of the dead were young Chinese women, including one who was fatally hit by a fire engine as she lay stricken near the runway.

Landing just before noon on a clear and sunny Saturday, but with San Francisco airport's instrument landing system reportedly out of service, Flight 214 had been cleared by air traffic controllers for a visual landing on Runway 28 Left.

Amateur video of the moment of impact showed the aircraft's nose up, and its rear hitting the ground first, before it bounced abruptly then spun around 180 degrees, shedding its tail.

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