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Asiana pilot 'stressed' prior to San Francisco crash

WASHINGTON -- The pilot of a South Korean airliner that crashed in San Francisco in July felt very stressed about touching down without a functioning instrument landing system to guide him, according to documents released Wednesday.

Three passengers died when Asiana Airlines Flight 214 clipped a seawall with its landing gear, skidded off the runway and burst into flames at the tragic end of an otherwise routine flight from Seoul on July 6.

Another 182 passengers and crew aboard the Boeing 777 were injured, in the first fatal commercial airline crash in the United States since 2009.

A summary of Captain Lee Kang-kuk's interview with U.S. air accident investigators was made public as part of a day-long National Transportation Safety Board hearing in the U.S. capital.

“We heard a lot today,” NTSB chief Deborah Hersman told reporters at the end of the hearing, adding that the case remained a top priority for the federal agency.

While the final report should be ready by the first anniversary of the crash, Hersman said “we will take as long as we need to complete the investigation.”

According to the NTSB summary posted online, Lee — a seasoned aviator undergoing transition training to the Boeing 777 — told investigators he felt “very stressful” about making a visual approach.

The instrument landing system at San Francisco had been out of service since June due to construction work, calling for a hands-on approach on an otherwise fine summer day.

Under normal circumstances, the ILS would let pilots know if they were too high or too low.

A visual approach requires looking out the window and taking cues from an array of approach lights at the runway's edge.

“Asked about whether he was concerned about his ability to perform a visual approach, he said, 'very concerned, yeah,'” according to the NTSB summary.

“Asked what aspect he was most concerned about, he said 'the unstable approach'” — the ability to set up an airplane for landing at a precise speed, direction and rate of descent, the document said.

“He added, 'exactly controlling the descent profile and the lateral profile, that is very stressful.'”

Lee had flown Airbus A320s for Asiana from 2005 until February this year, when he began training to master the bigger 777.

He had 9,700 hours of flight experience, but only 35 hours in the Boeing 777.

Earlier in his career, Lee had twice landed at San Francisco, once manually, as co-pilot of an Asiana Boeing 747.

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