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After Crash, Why Were Asiana Passengers Told To Stay Seated?

NPR icon by Mark Memmott
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Eugene Anthony Rah

One of the latest details revealed about Saturday's crash of Asiana Flight 214 in San Francisco likely raises a question in many minds:

After tumbling down the runway and coming to rest, why did the flight crew initially ask passengers to remain in their seats rather than immediately start to evacuate? Instead, an announcement was made for everyone to stay put. It was another 90 seconds or so before the order to evacuate was given.

An initial review of what happened indicates that the pilots may have thought it was safer to wait for emergency personnel to get to their crippled jet before having passengers get out.

According to what Deborah Hersman, head of the National Transportation Safety Board, told reporters on Wednesday:

-- When the Boeing 777 came to a stop, flight attendants asked the pilots if they should begin an evacuation. "The pilots indicated that they were working with air traffic controllers," Hersman said, and asked that passengers be told to stay where they were.

"We don't know [yet] what the pilots were thinking," Hersman added, "[but] in previous accidents there have been crews that don't evacuate. They wait for other vehicles to come to be able to get the passengers out safely."

-- Moments later, however, a flight attendant saw fire outside the aircraft. "Certainly, if there's an awareness that there's fire aboard an aircraft, that's a serious issue," Hersman said. A flight attendant alerted the pilots. "The aircraft evacuation began after that," said Hersman.

"Hindsight is 20/20," Hersman also told reporters. But, she added, "pilots are in the front of the airplane. They really don't have a good sense of what's going on behind them. They need to get that information from the flight attendants."

And when Flight 214's crew got that information, it appears, the evacuation began.

Two people died from injuries they suffered in the crash or immediately after (investigators are looking into whether one person was struck and killed by an emergency vehicle responding to the scene). But all 305 of the other people on board survived.

The NTSB has posted video of Hersman's briefing. Bill posted Wednesday about other details from her presentation.

She also discusses another piece of information — that, as USA Today reports, the pilot has told investigators he was "temporarily blinded by a bright light when 500 feet above the ground. Asked if it is possible that someone on the ground aimed a laser light at the aircraft, Hersman said, "we really don't know at this point what it could have been."

The potential danger of laser lights aimed at cockpits has been a concern for several years.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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