The National Transportation Safety Board held their latest press briefing today on the Asiana Flight 214 crash. But that latest round of information came after the union representing commercial airline pilots criticized the agency for being too informative.
Essentially, the Air Line Pilots Association (APLA) believes the abundance of information — a timeline, witness accounts, and photos of the crash site, for starters — could lead to "rampant speculation" about the cause of the crash. They, presumably, are worried that the public will blame pilot error before the NTSB releases the results of their investigation. While it seems a bit off to suggest that the public wouldn't include pilot error in the routine speculation that follows any sort of highly-covered disaster or tragedy, their worry probably comes from the fact that many of the most interesting details about the crash relate to the crew flying the plane. That, and the NTSB's early revelation that the plane was going significantly slower than the target speed as it approached to land.
The details the union takes the biggest issue with, according to the Hill, come from transcripts of recorded conversations in the cockpit of the plane. For their part, the NTSB responded to the union's allegation in their press briefing today, saying that "The information we're providing is consistent with our procedures and processes," adding that "one of the hallmarks of the NTSB is our transparency...we are the advocate for the traveling public." Over the past few days, the agency has held frequent briefings, and provided additional information on their investigation via their Twitter account. They have declined to answer any questions on the cause of the crash, noting today that they won't get close to a probable cause while their team is still on the ground collecting evidence. Unsurprisingly, it looks like Twitter is Team NTSB on this one:
Really incredible to see what @NTSB is doing on Twitter. Wish we had this kind of transparency and openness from all federal regulators.— Brian Larson (@larsonite) July 8, 2013
Meanwhile, the NTSB released a new b-roll video of the site after their briefing:
Today, the information from the NTSB amounted to just a few new details. The agency has interviewed two of the four pilots on board — three pilots in the cockpit, and one sitting in the back of the plane. The most detailed account comes from the instructor pilot.
The instructor pilot, who was on his first flight as a mentor, gave a timeline that seems to fit with the one established by the agency, based on flight recorder data. The pilot said that they were "slightly high" at 4,000 feet, to the best of his knowledge. At about 500 feet, he realized they were low for the landing, at which point he told the pilot to pull back. They set their speed at 137 knots, which he assumed they were maintaining (from what the NTSB has said before, they were not. The plane was about 30 knots too slow). At this point, it's not clear from the NTSB why the plane was flying that slowly. At 500-200 feet, the plane had an unspecified "lateral deviation," and were trying to correct it. At 200 feet, the pilot noticed their speed. That's when he asked for a go-around.
When the plane crashed, according to the agency, the landing gear hit the sea wall first. Then, the tail hit. A post-crash fire broke out in the right engine after an oil tank ruptured and leaked fuel onto it while it was hot. Two flight attendants were thrown from the plane at the time of the crash. They both survived.
Notably, none of the crew members was tested for drugs or alcohol before or after the crash. That's because the policy on those tests for international incidents depends on those set by the country of origin, and not by the site of the crash, according to the NTSB. The agency will give another update tomorrow.