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NTSB hearing begins on SF airliner crash

Updated at: 12/10/2013 12:35 AM
By STEPHEN BRAUN AND MARTHA MENDOZA

(AP) WASHINGTON - Five months after a deadly Boeing 777 crash landed at San Francisco International Airport, the National Safety Transportation Board plans a two-day hearing examining whether the pilots were overly reliant on computer systems when they approached too low and slow before striking a seawall and tumbling across the runway.

The board said the hearing will focus on "pilot awareness in a highly automated aircraft." There are also plans to review the emergency response.

The crash left three Chinese teenage girls dead; one died during the crash, a second was run over by a fire truck on the tarmac, and a third died at San Francisco General Hospital. In addition, more than 150 of the 307 aboard the flight were injured.

In briefings held days after the July crash, investigators said pilots of Asiana Flight 214 relied on automated cockpit equipment to control the jetliner’s speed as they landed at San Francisco airport, and they realized too late they were in trouble.

Increasing automation has been a tremendous overall safety boon to aviation. But the automation has also changed the relationship between pilots and their aircraft, and an overreliance on automated cockpit systems has figured in dozens of air crashes and incidents in recent years.

Asiana Airlines’ newly appointed chief safety officer Akiyoshi Yamamura, who plans to attend the hearing, told reporters in Seoul last week that safety is the airlines "top priority" and that they continue to improve oversight of pilots.

The pilot at the controls when the plane crashed was only about halfway through his training on the Boeing 777 and was landing that type of aircraft at the San Francisco airport for the first time ever. And the co-pilot was on his first trip as a flight instructor.

At least 61 passengers are suing the airline, according to federal court records.

The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

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Mendoza reported from San Jose, Calif.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)