Pilots waited 90 seconds to evacuate after San Francisco crash

Confusion on the ground led to the 'unusual' decision to keep passengers on board
  • @OliDuggan

The bloodied passengers of Asiana flight 214, which crash landed in San Francisco on Saturday, waited a full 90 seconds for the order to evacuate the wreckage, it has emerged.

According to safety reports, pilots initially decided to keep all passengers inside the jet after it skidded to halt - an order that was reversed after a flight attendant spotted a fire outside the craft.

As a result, the grinding stop of the craft and the opening of the first cabin door was separated by a minute and half of wasted time, according to the safety board’s timeline.

Investigators added that it was a further 90 seconds before emergency crews begin filling the plane with fire-retardant spray to stem the fire that would eventually rip through the cabin.

Government officials and safety experts have said the blaze did not add to list of fatalities because it did not reach the fuselage until most passengers had successfully escaped the area.

The crash itself reportedly killed two Chinese teenagers, Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia, who had been sitting in the rear of the plane, where many of the most seriously injured passengers were seated.

But police are now investigating whether one of the pair survived being thrown from the plane on impact and died only after being run over by a responding emergency vehicle.

Speaking yesterday, a senior safety official described the confusion on the ground after the Boeing 777 struck a sea wall and lost its tall on its descent into the airport. 

"It seems a little unusual that the crew would not announce an order to evacuate after a plane crash," National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Deborah Hersman said. "We don't know what the pilots were thinking."

Ms Hersman also confirmed evacuation slides injured a flight attendant and hindered escape after inflating inside the aircraft as it bounced along the ground in a 360 degree spin.

She added that the pilot, who was landing a 777 at San Francisco for the first time, claims he was blinded by a light at about 500ft (150m) - about 34 seconds before impact and the point when the Boeing began to slow down.

The possibility that the flash was caused by a laser was not being ruled out, Ms Hersman added.

US investigators are continuing to review flight data and video footage, and have interviewed all four pilots and those flight attendants that are no longer in hospital.