Most plane crashes "survivable," NTSB head says

(CBS News) The crash landing of an Asiana Airlines flight from Seoul, South Korea, that killed at least two people Saturday at San Francisco International Airport was - like most plane crashes - "a survivable accident," National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said Sunday on "Face the Nation."

Following the crash, which left the runway littered with debris and forced passengers to jump down the emergency inflatable slides to safety, at least 181 people on the 307-person flight were transported to area hospitals, 49 with serious injuries. Hersman is heading a team to investigate the circumstances of the accident.

"There was significant damage on the aircraft," Hersman said. "And you've all seen the pictures of the burned fuselage, the damaged fuselage. But inside the aircraft, there is significant structural damage. And, so, when we see that, we are certainly very thankful that there weren't more fatalities and serious injuries.

"Our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones, and to those who are in the hospital for their recovery," she continued. "But I will tell you this is a survivable accident. We saw so many people walk away. And what's really important is for people to understand that airplane crashes - the majority of them are survivable."

Hersman said that while it's too early to draw conclusions about the ultimate cause of the crash, "what we do know is that there was a NOTAM - or, a notice to airmen - that indicated that the 'glide slope' was out. The 'glide slope' had been out since June." (The "glide slope" has also been referred to as the "glide path," and is an automatic system that helps warn pilots when they are not approaching a landing properly.) Still, she added, "what's important to note is there are a lot of tools that are available to pilots; the glide slope indicator is just one of those tools."

Now having recovered voice and data recorders from the flight, or so-called "black boxes," Hersman said investigators will be able to listen into the interactions between the cockpit crew at the time of the accident. "We'll be looking at what the crew might've been using to get in, and we'll want to understand all of that," she said. "But everything is on the table right now. We're taking a look at it all."

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    Lindsey Boerma is senior video producer for CBSNews.com.

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