Asiana crash: Airline CEO says human error reports 'intolerable'

SEOUL (AFP) - The head of Asiana Airlines on Monday described as "intolerable" media reports that pilot inexperience may have been to blame for a fatal weekend crash, as some traumatised passengers returned to South Korea.

Mr Yoon Young Doo acknowledged that the 46-year-old pilot, Mr Lee Kang Kuk, was training aboard the Boeing 777. But he said Mr Lee was accompanied by an experienced co-pilot with two other staff in the cockpit as well.

While Mr Lee had just 43 hours of experience in flying that model of plane, he has more than 9,000 hours of flight time under his belt, Asiana said.

"Such speculation (about inexperience) is intolerable and it's contrary to the facts," the Asiana CEO told reporters.

"It's not a matter of speculation. You should not speculate."

The South Korean airline's boss added that Mr Lee, who was in charge of the landing the plane which burst into flames as it hit the runway in San Francisco, was undergoing a "very regular type of training that is done by all other airlines around the world".

The pilot was attempting his first 777 landing in San Francisco. He had previously landed there flying 747s from 1999 through 2004, the airline said.

His trainer was an experienced pilot with more than 12,000 hours of flight time, it said.

Asiana's chief has previously dismissed an engine or mechanical problem as being the cause of the crash, which left two dead and 182 others injured.

Also on Monday, a group of 11 South Korean passengers aboard the plane returned home, including a 28-year-old woman who was travelling with her husband for their first wedding anniversary.

"I feel so much pain both physically and mentally," the woman told Yonhap news agency.

"My whole body aches." Another passenger who arrived at Seoul's Incheon airport was carried on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance outside the arrival gate, Yonhap reported.

The South's transport ministry said it would take months to identify the cause of the accident, although initial inspections showed the plane's tail struck a sea wall at the end of the runway.

"We cannot conclude the accident was caused by a pilot mistake. Whether there was a pilot mistake can be confirmed after all related data are analysed and inspected," Mr Choi Jeong Ho, the head of the ministry's aviation policy bureau, told reporters.

Asiana said the airliner, purchased in March 2006, had received repairs for oil leaking from an engine early last month but this was not a factor in the crash.

It was the first fatal accident involving an Asiana passenger plane since June 1993, when a Boeing 737 operated by the carrier crashed into a mountain in South Korea, killing 68.

US investigators said the aircraft was travelling much slower than recommended and a pilot asked to abort the landing just before the plane smashed into the ground at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday.

The flight data recorder also showed that the pilots received a warning that the engines were likely to stall as it approached the runway.

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