Were Asiana Pilots Drinking? We Might Never Know
After talking to two National Transportation Safety Board officials and one FAA official, we told you yesterday that the pilots involved in Saturday's fatal Asiana Airlines crash at San Francisco International Airport were drug-and-alcohol tested per federal regulations.
Not so, NTSB chairwoman Deborah A. P. Hersman told reporters today:
Because Asiana is a foreign-based carrier, federal authorities don't have the right to mandatory testing of its pilots, she said.
This isn't to suggest the three pilots in the cockpit were tying one on. However, there has been intense focus on the pilots' actions because there was no indication there was mechanical trouble and because the "visual" landing at SFO that day should have been run-of-the-mill.
"None of the crew members on Asiana 214 were tested for drugs and alcohol post-crash," Hersman told reporters today.
Pilots for domestic carriers are required to be tested following accidents, she said. But testing of the Asiana pilots, if done, would be up to the carrier's home country, in this case South Korea. Hersman:
They're deferring to the country to which those air carriers are based.
As we reported yesterday, South Korea has reportedly had difficulty testing its pilots for alcohol; the government has seen resistance on the issue.
According to China's Global Times:
In May 2011, a pilot with Asiana Airlines failed a random on-site alcohol test right at the flight's boarding gate. It was the third incident of its kind in a year.
Such misbehavior has also been found at other airlines in the country, like Korean Air.
Business insiders say the limited number of qualified pilots in South Korea has made it hard to demand stricter regulations, such as routine alcohol checks.
The Asiana Being 777 was flying significantly slower than the target speed of 137 knots (about 157 miles per hour), causing it to nearly stall, or drop out of sky, just before it crashed into a sea wall at the end of an SFO runway Saturday morning, NTSB officials said.
Hersman said today that the pilots believed they had set the speed at 137 via a cruise-control like "auto-throttle" feature on the jet. Investigators are still trying to determine why the plane was going so much slower, and why pilots apparently began to react to their perilous position only seven seconds before impact.