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Announcements by NTSB spark flood of speculation on cause of jet crash

Frequent and fractured updates by the U.S. National Transportation and Safety Board on what happened in the cockpit of the doomed Asiana jet that crash-landed at San Francisco Airport have triggered a flood of speculations over the exact cause of the incident.

News reports on the accident have flooded the media based on varied information attained from the Washington-based NTSB’s press briefings.

In the four days since the accident, the chief investigator hosted two media conferences, releasing detailed updates on the progress of the investigation, mainly focusing on the pilots.

The first 30-minute press briefing by the NTSB in San Francisco on Monday (Seoul time) disclosed that the plane was flying lower and more slowly than recommended.

NTSB head Deborah Hersman stressed it was too early to tell which factor caused the slow speed. Then, she released a partial cockpit voice recording, which showed that the pilot realized the speed problem at the very last moment and tried to increase the speed 1.5 seconds before the crash. It also released details on the commanding pilot Lee Kang-guk who landed the plane, saying Lee had 43 hours of experience on the Boeing 777 and it was his first time landing the model at San Francisco Airport.

Despite the NTSB head asking media not to jump to conclusions before combining the investigation with the data analysis of the black box, media outlets highlighted the possibility of pilot error as the main cause of the crash.

The NTSB held a second, 40-minute media briefing on Wednesday (Seoul time), and released detailed updates based on interviews with the two pilots flying at the time of the crash.

The NTSB for the first time raised the issue of a possible mechanical factor, saying it found the automatic speed control equipment was armed during landing after interviewing the pilots.

It then released additional developments from the site. The investigator said it found two flight attendants working in the back of flight 214 who were ejected when the flight crashed, and continued to say it found that the pilots delayed the evacuation after the crash, asking passengers to stay in the aircraft.

NTSB’s release of detailed and fragmented information on the accident before analyzing the black box is considered unprecedented in the U.S. The Air Line Pilots Association recently released a statement asking for the NTSB to hold off on the release of detailed information from the preliminary investigation.

But the NTSB head refuted the union’s claims in a recent interview with CNN. She said the agency believes a transparent release of information is crucial.

“We believe that it is always better to put out the correct information and factual information so that bad information is not able to propagate,” she said.


Overwhelmed by the swift and extensive information released by the NSTB, Korea’s Transport Ministry asked the U.S. agency to hold a joint press briefing after sharing materials.

The ministry also asked the local press not to make hasty conclusions on the cause of the accident before the analysis of the black box is released.

By Seo Jee-yeon and news reports