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Aviation expert weighs in on flight safety, SFO crash

July 8, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Experts say you have a one in 14 million chance of dying in a plane crash. In fact, last year was the safest year for flying since 1945.

But the crash landing at San Francisco International Airport was a reminder that crashes are a reality.

Commercial airplanes have an incredible safety record in recent years. Aviation experts say in the Asiana crash, the fact that Saturday was the pilot's first time flying the Boeing 777 into San Francisco shouldn't have been a problem.

"When you think about it, every captain new to an airplane has to start out somewhere and build up his experience," said Barry Schiff, a retire airline pilot. "What normally makes an operation like that really, really safe is the fact that he is accompanied by an instructor who ensures that all the safety standards of any given flight are met."

Schiff says the question is why the plane was flying at 106 knots, well below the 136 knots it should have been going as it crossed the runway.

"Air speed is the lifeblood of an airplane," he said. "If you lose too much of it, the airplane fails to fly. Why either of these pilots, or both of them, failed to recognize the air speed was decreasing so rapidly, is beyond me. That's the great mystery of this flight."

Schiff says advances in airplane technology helped most of the plane stay together as it skidded on the runway, likely saving lives.

"I think the survivability of this accident is a tribute to Boeing and the airplanes they build. The 777 has a magnificent safety record. As far as I know, before this accident, it has never killed one passenger," said Schiff.

It could take a year for NTSB investigators to announce the official cause of the crash.

"The investigators are going to essentially write a non-fiction detective story that may be a 900 page book and right now we're beginning page one," said Chesley Sullenberger, the former US Airways captain who in 2009 successfully landed a jetliner on the Hudson River after the aircraft ran into a flock of birds.

The NTSB isn't ruling out pilot error as a potential cause of the crash, but investigators say it is simply too early to determine.


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