William M. Welch and Charisse Jones, USA TODAY
The pilots of Asiana Flight 214 that crashed Saturday at San Francisco were not given drug and alcohol tests following the accident that left two people dead, the nation's top safety regulator said Tuesday.
Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said federal regulations require drug and alcohol testing of critical crew members following an accident but that those regulations do not cover foreign licensed pilots as were flying the South Korean airlines' Boeing 777.
She made the remarks at a briefing in San Francisco. She said investigators have interviewed three cockpit crew members present at the time of the crash. A fourth crewmember was in the cabin of the aircraft.
"We made inquiries after our arrival on the scene,'' Hersman said. "None of the crew members of Asiana Flight 214 were tested for drugs and alcohol post crash.''
Hersman added that investigators were looking further into the testing issue and requirements for foreign pilots landing in the United States. But she said U.S. regulators do not have oversight responsibility for foreign licensed pilots.
A visual inspection of the runway and debris field showed the Asiana flight's landing gear struck the seawall first, followed by the tail of the aircraft as it descended too slow and too low for a proper approach to the runway, 28 Left at San Francisco International Airport, she said.
"After impact the aircraft ballooned, it yawed left and went into a 360 degree spin,'' she said.
Two flight attendants working in the back of the plane were ejected and survived, Associated Press reported. Both women were found on the runway, amid debris.
Hersman said safety board investigators have interviewed three of the four pilots and were interviewing a fourth, who was seated in the plane's cabin and not on duty at the time.
One of the cockpit crew, a first officer, received hospital treatment for a cracked rib, and two others were not hospitalized, she said.
The pilot at the controls in the left seat of the plane was half way through his certification to fly the 777 plane but was experienced in other big jets and had been captain of Airbus A320 planes most recently, she said.
In the right seat was an instructor pilot who "reported that this was his first trip as an instructor pilot,'' she said.
"The instructor pilot stated that he was the pilot in command, he was seated in the right seat,'' she said.
She said the instructor pilot reported "they were slightly high when the passed 4,000 feet'' of altitude and the crew set their controls for a descent of 1,500 feet per minute.
"At 500 feet he realized they were low,'' she said.
She said the pilots reported setting airspeed for 137 knots, the target approach speed, and the instructor pilot "assumed the auto throttles were maintaining that speed.'' By 200 feet above ground they realized they were still low and "He recognized the autho throttles were not maintaining speed.''
She said the pilot went to push the throttle forward to apply more power and found the left-seat pilot had already done so.'' The plane struck the seawall seconds later.
The NTSB is seeking answers as to what caused the accident, the first passenger airline crash in the U.S. since Feb. 12, 2009, when a Colgan Air flight went down just outside Buffalo, New York, leaving 50 dead.
Federal investigators have been holding daily briefings to detail what they have learned, and what information they are continuing to gather. But at least one pilot's organization has been critical of the frequent updates.
The Air Line Pilots Association, the biggest pilot's union in the world, said in a statement on Monday that it was "stunned by the amount of detailed operational data from on board recorders released by the National Tranportation Safety Board this soon into the investigation.. .. This premature release of partial data is often taken out of context and creates the impression that the NTSB has already determined probable cause even before the investigation has started.''
Hersman said that it was important investigators provide accurate answers to dampen unfounded speculation.
"It is always better to put out factual information,'' she said.
NTSB investigators on Tuesday interviewed the ill-fated jetliner's pilot, Lee Gang-guk. While he'd had nearly 10,000 hours in the air, flying a variety of other jets including the relatively similar 747, the pilot had only spent 43 hours flying the 777 and was still in training. Saturday was also the first time he had attempted to land that particular jet type in San Francisco.
Some aviation experts have remarked on the relatively low loss of life, with much credit being given to fast-acting flight attendants and emergency workers. But the local coroner and fire chief have said one of the two Chinese teenagers killed in the crash may have been struck by a rescue vehicle arriving at the scene. Cause of death has not yet been determined.