Herald news services
The Boeing 777-200 that crash landed in San Francisco on Saturday represents a workhorse of the airline industry that has enjoyed a stellar reputation among pilots for safety.
“The 777 has a fantastic record,” said Tom Haueter, who retired last year from the National Transportation Safety Board, where he was the head of aviation accident investigations.
“It could very easily have the safest record for that size of aircraft,” said Robert Herbst, a retired American Airlines 767 pilot and aviation industry consultant in South Carolina.
Saturday’s crash of the Asiana Airlines 777 is only the second major accident for the twin-engine, wide-bodied jet in the 18 years the model has been in service, aviation safety experts said.
The airliner had not experienced a fatality until Saturday, according to AirSafe.com, which tracks crashes and airline industry safety.
The last serious incident involving a 777 occurred on Jan. 17, 2008, when a British Airways 777 arriving from Beijing touched down about 1,000 feet short of runway 27L at London’s Heathrow Airport, skidded more than 1,000 feet and sheared off its landing gear, according to AirSafe.com. There were 47 injuries, but no fatalities.
An investigation revealed ice pellets had formed in the fuel while the plane was flying at high altitudes, clogging the fuel-oil heat exchanger. As a result, fuel was blocked from reaching both of the plane’s engines. The Rolls-Royce Trent 800 series engines that were used on the plane were fixed afterward to prevent similar problems.
The images of Saturday’s Boeing 777 wreckage suggested a similar scenario as the plane tried to land at SFO’s Runway 28L, Herbst said.
“This is very obvious what happened,” said Herbst, who flew commercial airliners for 41 years before retiring three years ago. “They landed short of the runway. They were too low for the flight path and the tail of the aircraft hit the sea wall.”
Jet fuel in the wings of the 777 then likely caught fire, Herbst said.
Haueter said that while the two accidents appear to have occurred about the point in landing, “you can’t rule out anything thing at this point.”
“I think it’s someone who got slow and low on the approach, quite frankly, but we won’t know anything until we see the flight data recorder,” he said.
Asiana Airlines flies Boeing’s twin-engine B777-200ER model, which can carry up to 300 people, according to the company’s website.
The airline said it can fly the 777-200ER for 14 hours non-stop between Seoul and Honolulu, Seattle and Europe.
The 777 had its first flight in 1994 and was introduced into service in 1995.
As of last month, Boeing had delivered more than 1,100 of the planes to airlines around the world.
This report contains material from The Associated Press and the San Jose Mercury News.