United Airlines pilot witnesses Asiana Flight 214 crash

July 9, 2013 8:46:08 PM PDT
We are getting a gripping, first-hand account from the people who had perhaps the best vantage point -- a cockpit crew on a United Airlines 747, sitting at the end of the runway as Asiana Flight 214 came down at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday.

One of the pilots aboard that plane waiting to take off wrote a detailed email to friends and family about what happened, and we've also tracked down the radio calls from that cockpit to air traffic control, moments after the crash.

United Flight 885 sat on Taxiway F, just short of Runway 28L. The pilots were going over their final checklist before leaving for Osaka, Japan. The 747-400 was loaded with passengers when they spotted the Asiana flight coming in.

The relief first officer said it looked like the plane was going to hit the approach lights mounted on piers in the bay.

In his email, the pilot wrote: "The aircraft made a fairly drastic-looking pull up in the last few feet and it appeared and sounded as if they had applied maximum thrust. However the descent path they were on continued and the thrust applied didn't appear to come soon enough to prevent impact."

The United crew and passengers watched the 777 hit the seawall, the tail section and landing gear shearing off.

The pilot wrote: "We saw the fuselage, largely intact, slide down the runway and out of view of our cockpit."

Audio from www.LiveATC.net:

Pilot 1: "Yes, this is 885, we're going (unintelligible) left. And we see people and they need immediate attention. They are alive and walking around."

Tower: "These people are just walking outside the airplane right now?"

Pilot 1: "Yeah, some people look like they are struggling."

The United cockpit contacted air traffic control about the Asiana passengers walking on the runway.

The pilot wrote: "It seemed to take a very long time for vehicles and assistance to arrive for these victims."

Audio from www.LiveATC.net:

Pilot 2: "It's right out near the 28-right number on the right side of the runway. Excuse me, the 28-left number, between the runways, there are people right adjacent to the numbers, we can see about two or three people that are moving and have survived."

Tower: "Roger."

The United pilot then went to the main cabin.

He wrote: "The passenger mood was concerned, but generally calm. A few individuals were emotional as nearly every passenger on the left side of the aircraft saw the fuselage and debris field going over 100 knots past our aircraft only 300 feet away. By this point everyone had looked out the windows and could see the smoke plume from the 777."

There's no way to tell at this point whether the people spotted on the runway included the flight attendants who were thrown from the plane on impact and who survived, as mentioned by the NTSB Tuesday afternoon. In his email, the pilot also praised the flight attendants on his plane -- some were shaken, but he said all did an outstanding job of comforting the passengers.


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