Asiana Airlines president defends pilots in S.F. plane crash

crash1By Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times

Asiana Airlines on Tuesday defended the experience of the pilots who were at the controls when Asiana Flight 214 crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport last week, killing two and injuring scores of others.

Lee Kang-kook, the captain who was in training on the Boeing 777, had previously flown in to SFO 29 times as a co-pilot on Boeing 747s, Asiana President Yoon Young-doo told reporters at a briefing Tuesday in Seoul. The co-pilot on the flight, Lee Jung-min, had flown into the airport 33 times, Yoon said.

“They each had 33 and 29 times of operational experience,” Yoon said before boarding a flight himself for San Francisco, calling the men “excellent pilots.” "I can tell you that they were sufficiently qualified pilots."

The investigation into Saturday’s crash is zeroing in on what went wrong in the moments leading up to the plane’s approach onto Runway 28L, when the aircraft was flying too low and too slow. Aviation safety experts questioned why the crew did not recognize the problem and take action before the flight clipped a sea wall then rammed into the runway.

It was only 1.5 seconds before impact that the plane attempted to abort the landing, by which time it was too late.

Lee Kang-kook had only 43 hours of experience on the 777. Lee Jung-min was his “training captain,” but he had only been certified as a training supervisor June 15, less than a month before the crash, Asiana representatives said.

Yoon said he had personally apologized to the families of the two Chinese girls who were killed in the crash. He is scheduled to view the crash site Tuesday afternoon after arriving in San Francisco, and possibly meet with survivors and their families in the coming days.

Yoon said he did not expect to meet with the pilots because they are out of reach until the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation is concluded.