Asiana Airlines says the tail strike suffered by the Boeing 777-200ER aircraft that crashed at San Francisco International Airport on 6 July started a fire aboard the aircraft.

"We are currently in the process of confirming the actual cause of the accident," said Asiana CEO Yoon Young-Doo in a Seoul press conference.

"The accident occurred when the aircraft's tail struck the runway on landing, which led to a fire on the aircraft. The aircraft was landing on the correct runway as it was instructed by the control tower at San Francisco International Airport."

Flight 214 was arriving on Runway 28 Left after a 10.5h flight from Seoul's Incheon International Airport.

Prior to this route the aircraft had flown to Seoul from Osaka, and no maintenance issues were discovered prior to its departure to San Francisco. The aircraft underwent scheduled maintenance in June.

The carrier confirmed that of the 291 passengers and 16 cabin crew, 131 people were hospitalised after the crash. Previously the carrier had said that 130 passngers were hospitalised. The crash's two fatalties are a pair of Chinese young women who were seated in the rear of the aircraft.

According to a self-described eye-witness of the crash, the aircraft's tail separated from the aircraft aft of the pressure bulkhead as the nose of the 777-200ER bounced twice, then spun around and departed from the left side of Runway 28.

Yoon adds that the the four-man flight crew comprised three pilots with over 10,000hrs of experience each, and a co-pilot with 5,000hrs.

The company has dispatched an emergency response team to San Fransisco comprising 12 Asiana employees, eight accident investigators, and 37 journalists.

"Through an in-depth investigation we plan to thoroughly investigate the cause of this accident," says Yoon. "Supplementary action will be taken based on these results and all efforts devoted and processes modified to ensure safe operations in the future."

The aircraft, registered as HL7742, was delivered on 7 March 2006, and had accumulated 35,700h on 5,185 cycles as of 31 March, Flightglobal Pro online database shows. The 777-200ER, one of 12 in the Asiana fleet, was powered by the Pratt & Whitney PW4090 engines.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news