Turns out that this isn't true, according to NTSB chairwoman Deborah A. P. Hersman. See our latest: Were Asiana Pilots Drinking? We Might Never Know.
Pilots behind the controls if the Asiana Airlines passenger jet that crashed over the weekend at San Francisco International Airport were tested for drugs and alcohol by federal authorities, a National Transportation Safety Board official tells the Weekly.
Such testing would be normal protocol in the case of a passenger jet accident regardless of whether the aircraft originated overseas, another official said. That official, who did not want his name used because only NTSB chairwoman Deborah A. P. Hersman was speaking officially about flight 214, told us the results of such testing would be released later by Hersman, who has been briefing the media daily about the accident:
“There is a time frame in which they are tested,” the latter official told us. “I'm sure the chairwoman will be releasing that information.”
FAA regulations apparently require drug-and-alcohol testing of pilots immediately after an accident, he said.
A report in the Chinese Global Times says that Asiana had issues with pilots drinking in recent years and that the airline's home nation of South Korea has struggled with restricting alcohol for those behind the controls:
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.
Focus on possible pilot error in the San Francisco case has intensified since Saturday's 11:36 a.m. crash killed two teens headed to summer camp in L.A. and injured more than 180, some of them critically.
On the clear summer morning, the Boeing 777 from Seoul was cleared for a “visual,” or manual landing, with SFO's automated glide-slope system off-line, when the plane clipped a seawall, lost its tail, skidded to a spinning stop on its belly, and erupted in flames.
With no indication that there was any mechanical trouble, wind gusts or other, last-minute emergencies to deal with, there has been more and more focus on the pilots.
The plane was traveling much too slow, 103 knots versus an ideal 137 (157 miles per hour), just before impact, Hersman told reporters today.
Pilots indicated something was amiss only 7 seconds before the plane hit the ground, when they apparently tried to increase engine speed, she said earlier.
About 1.5 seconds before impact, the crew indicated it wanted to attempt a “go around,” essentially a do-over that would take the plane back up and have it circle around for another landing attempt, the chairwoman said.
Audio of crew-to-tower communication just before the crash also elicits what much of the media noted was at least one “unintelligible” utterance on the part of a crew member.
— Dave McLauchlan (@DaveMcLauchlan) July 7, 2013
What this all means, of course, is anyone's guess.
Asiana over the weekend stated that the captain at the controls was very experienced but that it would have been his first time landing a 777 at SFO.
Airline pilot Patrick Smith today discounted concern that the pilots would have been too inexperienced to land a 777 at the airport. He writes:
Pilots transition from aircraft type to aircraft type all the time, and it's not uncommon for a pilot to have a limited number of hours in whichever plane he or she has most recently qualified in. But experience in a particular model and experience overall are different things. All airline pilots are highly trained and are highly experienced before they ever set foot in a jetliner cockpit.
He did state this:
Based on what the National Transportation Safety Board and other sources have reported thus far, the pilots found themselves in the throes of an unstable approach–apparently below the proper glide path and at too low a speed–and failed to correct or abandon the approach in time. They initiated a go-around–a fairly routine maneuver, referred to by some people as an “aborted landing,” in which the approach is broken off and the jet climbs away for a second attempt–but it was too late. How or why they got themselves in this position, and why they did not correct or abandon the landing sooner, remains unknown.