The throttles were advanced and the engines responded as they should. But by then it was too late. The Boeing 777’s low altitude and sink rate were such that its tail clipped the seawall off the end of the runway, and the aircraft skidded several hundred yards to a stop as one engine and parts of the wings came off.
Asked if all of this indicated pilot error – particularly since the weather was good and there had been no reported mechanical problems – Hersman declined to answer directly, citing the need to validate the information on the recorders.
“Everything is on the table right now,” she said. “We won’t speculate; we’re just telling you what we know to be true.”
The NTSB team headed by Hersman expects to be on the scene in San Francisco for at least a week, or however long it takes to complete the initial on-scene investigation.
Among other things, investigators want to interview the four pilots onboard and the cabin crew as well as passengers. Regarding the flight crew, investigators will be looking at how well they worked together and followed established procedures as well as such issues as cockpit configuration and issues that could affect crew performance, especially on a flight lasting more than 10 hours – fatigue, use of medications, sleep disorders, or drug and alcohol use.
Visibility was 10 miles at the time, and there was a slight wind (7 knots) from the left. No wind shears or other potentially adverse conditions had been reported.
It was noted that aircraft landing on Runway 28 Left were operating VFR (using Visual Flight Rules), which means that the electronic glide path was not in service and it was up to the pilot to fly the approach to landing visually and manually.
In this case, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had issued a worldwide “notice to airmen” (NOTAM) that the glide path on that runway would not be operating from June 1 to August 22 while construction to improve the runway was underway.