By Peter Henderson and Dan Levine
SAN FRANCISCO | Sun Jul 7, 2013 1:34am EDT
(Reuters) – A navigation system that helps pilots make safe descents was turned off at San Francisco airport on Saturday when a South Korean airliner crashed and burned after undershooting the runway, officials said.
The system, called Glide Path, is meant to help planes land in bad weather. It was clear and sunny, with light winds, when Asiana Flight 214 from Seoul, South Korea crashed just before noon, killing two passengers and injuring more than 100.
Aircraft safety experts said Glide Path was far from essential for routine landings, and it was not unusual for airports to take such landing systems off line for maintenance or other reasons.
But pilots have grown to rely on the decades-old technology, which is designed specifically to prevent runway misses, so investigators are likely to look closely at the issue.
“The pilots would have had to rely solely on visual cues to fly the proper glide path to the runway, and not have had available to them the electronic information that they typically have even in good weather at most major airports,” said Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the former US Airways pilot who gained fame with a successful crash landing on the Hudson River in 2009.
“What that means is that then the automatic warnings that would occur in the cockpit when you deviate below the desired electronic path wouldn’t have been available either. So we don’t know yet if that’s a factor in this particular situation, but that’s certainly something they’ll be looking at,” he told the local CBS News affiliate.
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