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NTSB Investigators To Talk More To Cockpit Crew


And we just heard in Richard's story, National Transportation Safety Board chair Deborah Hersman. We have her on the phone from San Francisco. Thanks for joining us.

DEBORAH HERSMAN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Good morning. And what is your investigation doing in particular this morning and today?

HERSMAN: Well, today, our investigators are really going to be focusing on capturing the perishable information, conducting interviews. And so we're working back from the seawall and down the runway to the aircraft. We've got a lot of debris. It's all going to be GPS documented. There are 300 seats - over 300 seats on the aircraft. We want to document those, as well as the doors, the slides, conduct interviews of the cabin crew and the flight crew.

MONTAGNE: And I gather you've already started speaking to the four - some of the four pilots who are in the cockpit, including the pilot who was at the controls during the crash?

HERSMAN: Well, we had hoped to interview all four pilots yesterday. We were able to get through two of the four interviews yesterday. We hope to interview the flying pilot this morning. And so all of those interviews are in progress. They've been very cooperative, and it's very important for us to get that important insight of what they were doing, what they knew, when - what they understood.

MONTAGNE: And those are the key questions you'll be asking them?

HERSMAN: Absolutely. We want to make sure that we understand the human, the machine and the environment. So we're looking at the airport environment and navigation aids. We're looking at the aircraft, how the aircraft performs, systems, structures, power plants. When it comes to humans, we're looking at survival factors for the people who were passengers and crewmembers. But when it comes to pilots in the cockpit, we've got the cockpit flight - cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder that have yielded great information for us.

But now, we want to understand the why of some of those things. We've got the what with the recorders, but we need to talk to the crew to understand why some of the decisions were made and what they were thinking about and what they understand about the computers on the aircraft and what they were doing.

MONTAGNE: Can you give us a couple of - is it possible for you to give us a couple of examples of the whats that you've already gotten from the recorders?

HERSMAN: Sure. Yes. And the recorders are a great source of information for our investigators because they provide us real factual data. We can get things like speeds. We can get information about their location, about callouts, about thrust and deployment of certain devices, like thrust reversers or landing gear. And so it gives us really good information. With respect to the cockpit voice recorder, we've got some very important points. We know that seven seconds prior to impact that there was a conversation in the cockpit that they recognized that they were slow.

Their target airspeed was 137 knots. When they crossed the runway threshold, they recognized that they were slow four seconds prior to impact. We had a stick shaker go off in the cockpit, and what this does is it - a cue to the pilot that a stall is imminent. The yoke vibrates and it's also a noise that they will hear to tell them you're in a dangerous position. You're about to stall. And then one and a half seconds prior to impact from the cockpit voice recorder we have discussion among the crewmembers to execute a go-around.

And a go-around is to abort the landing and go around and try to come in again. And so it's information like that that's very helpful to our investigators. We've got a lot of that. There are 1,400 parameters on a flight data recorder. We're going through all of that information now.

MONTAGNE: Lot of information. Well, let me ask you just briefly. It's reported that the pilot at the controls during landing had only 43 hours flying in this type of airplane, a Boeing 777. Is that a problem?

HERSMAN: Well, Renee, we know that a lot of pilots, commercial pilots will fly more than one aircraft type during their career. It's normal. It's part of the process for them to transition to different aircraft. This is an experienced pilot. He had a lot of hours, but he was new to the 777. He was going through some initial operating experience working on this aircraft. It was his first landing in a 777 coming into San Francisco. We want to understand what that training entailed, what some of the difference are between this aircraft and other aircraft he's flown, and, you know, what the expectations are for the pilot monitoring the training pilot who's working with him, and also for the pilot that's being trained.

MONTAGNE: So there's a lot more to learn about this crash ahead. Thank you very much for joining us.

HERSMAN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: That's Deborah Hersman. She's chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, speaking to us from San Francisco about the crash there of Flight 214. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.