SAN FRANCISCO —
Hersman has said repeatedly that pilots Lee Gang-kuk, who was landing the big jet for his first time at the San Francisco airport, and Lee Jeong-Min, who was training him were ultimately responsible for a safe landing.
The NTSB investigators will soon head back to Washington with "a mountain of information" to analyze and review, from pieces of the airliner to interview transcripts.
A firefighter who scrambled aboard the jet looking for victims as fire was breaking out told inspectors the seats in that section of the aircraft were almost pristine.
"He said it looked like you just fluff the pillows and turn the airplane around it can go out for its next flight."
That section soon erupted in flames caused by oil spilling on hot engines. The fuel tanks did not rupture, Hersman said Thursday.
The FAA has found "no significant issues" during 134 unannounced mechanical, pilot or avionic checks on Aviana airliners over the last 18 months, said Hersman.
Hersman clarified Thursday that the pilot trainee told investigators he saw a flash of light at about 500 feet, which would have been 34 seconds before impact and the point at which the airliner began to slow and drop precipitously. She said he told investigators that the light did not prevent him from seeing his instruments, and that it may have been a reflection of the sun. The other pilots made no mention of a light, she said.
While the pilots were manually flying the jet for the landing, as expected on a clear, sunny day, they told investigators they thought the airliner's speed was being controlled by an autothrottle set for 157 mph.
Inspectors found that the autothrottle had been "armed," or made ready for activation, Hersman said. But investigators are still determining whether it had been engaged. In the last two minutes, there was a lot of use of autopilot and autothrottle, and investigators are going to look into whether pilots made the appropriate commands and if they knew what they were doing, she said.