HIROSHIMA - Asiana Airlines Vice President Akiyoshi Yamamura apologized Thursday to passengers and their families over Tuesdays’s botched landing at Hiroshima Airport.
“I apologize from the bottom of my heart to the passengers, their family members and those involved,” Yamamura told reporters gathered at the airport.
One investigator said Wednesday that a downdraft may have caused the wheels of the airplane to clip a communications array moments before landing and running off the runway, injuring more than 20 passengers.
A downward air current may have caused the Airbus A320 to fly too low on its final approach in low visibility due to fog and rain, said the investigator from the Japan Transport Safety Board.
Passengers and crew left the damaged aircraft via chutes after it came to a stop just after 8 p.m. on Tuesday.
Investigators are interviewing the South Korean pilot and co-pilot as they begin analyzing why the accident occurred Tuesday night on flight OZ162 from Seoul.
The aircraft’s landing gear is thought to have struck a 6.4-meter-tall wireless communications tower located 325 meters away from the eastern end of the runway, a transport ministry official said.
Hiroshima Airport, which is prone to fog and clouds, is equipped with a high-level instrument landing system to help pilots land safely in reduced visibility. But it cannot be used for planes approaching from the east.
Most landings at the airport are from the west, but because of northwesterly winds on Tuesday night, the Asiana Airlines aircraft came in to land from the east, outside the path of the system’s ground transmitter.
As of late Thursday, the airport remained closed with all domestic and international flights canceled since Wednesday.
The transport ministry found exchanges between the pilot and air-traffic controller did not suggest any problem, even though the aircraft approached the runway at an unusually low altitude, apparently about 30 meters lower than a normal course, officials said.
The Japan Transport Safety Board dispatched five investigators to the site on Wednesday afternoon. Their probe into the cause of the accident is likely to hinge on determining why the aircraft came in too low.
Their tasks will include assisting investigators from South Korea’s Aviation and Railway Accident Investigation Board, also dispatched to the scene.
Hiroshima police said Wednesday they were investigating the accident site as a crime scene, potentially involving corporate negligence resulting in injury.
The police said that 23 passengers and two crew members had sustained injuries.
The injured included three children — 11-month-old and 3-year-old girls and a 5-year-old boy — as well as 12 men and 10 women ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s, according to police.
Seventeen of the injured are Japanese, five are South Koreans, two are Chinese and is one a U.S. national, they said.
According to Asiana Airlines, the aircraft was carrying 73 passengers from 10 countries, including 46 Japanese, nine Chinese and eight South Koreans.
The airline said the pilot had logged over 8,000 hours of flying time and the co-pilot over 1,500 hours.