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Asiana Pilots Blinded By Bright Light Before Crash

Benjamin Li |
July 11, 2013 | 5:06 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

During the ongoing investigation by federal crash investigators, the pilots aboard the Asiana-operated Boeing 777 reported being momentarily blinded by a flash of light at around 500 feet from impact.

rocksandstones/Flickr Creative Common
rocksandstones/Flickr Creative Common

Deborah Hersman, head of the National Transportation Safety Board, could not confirm the cause of the light. Hersman reported Thursday, however, that the pilot revealed he could still see vital flight controls after the flash of light, and that it may have simply been a reflection of the sun.

Others believe that the flash of light may have been a laser intentionally pointed at the aircraft's cockpit from the ground in nearby communities.

"We really don't know what it could have been," Hersman said. "It was a temporary issue."

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, lasers have become a persistent concern for pilots and airlines, and the frequency of laser incidents per year has grown 200% since 2009.

In 2006, pilots reported only 384 incidents involving high-powered lasers, whereas reports of pilots being distracted by lasers have increased to over 3,500 counts by 2012. Beams of light from even commonplace handheld lasers can effectively incapacitate a pilot's vision, and could lead to serious consequences.

New information on the investigation also revealed that the pilots postponed the evacuation of the plane until around 90 seconds after the plane crash-landed in an attempt to communicate with the airport towers, only taking action when one of the flight attendants saw that the plane had caught fire.

"In order to get certified, an airplane manufacturer must show the plane can be fully evacuated within 90 seconds," said Hersman during a press interview. "What we saw here was that the first doors and slides were not opened until about 90 seconds.

The New York Times reports that a safety mechanism called the "auto-throttle" had been set into several different "modes" with by the flight crew, preventing the auto-throttle from functioning correctly and keeping the plane at a safe minimum speed.

SEE MORE AT: San Francisco Plane Crash: New Details Point To Point To Pilot Error

Though the pilot in control of the plane had never landed at San Francisco Airport before, the supervising pilot onboard was a seasoned veteran with over 3,200 hours of flight experience who had landed 33 times at SFO in a Boeing 777.

Questions remain about why the experienced supervisor did not intervene despite the unorthodox speed and direction of the landing - Hersman said that investigators were "certainly interested to see if there are any issues where there are challenges to crew communication, if there is an authority gradient where people won't challenge one another."

SEE MORE AT: Asiana Airlines Flight 214 Recalls Tragic Period In Korean Air Travel


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