SAN FRANCISCO -- Despite the wealth of details released this week, a top federal air safety official said Thursday that it will be months before a final conclusion is reached on the cause of the Asiana Flight 214 crash at San Francisco International Airport.
In her final briefing to reporters before heading back to Washington, D.C., National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman seemed to rule out mechanical error, intensifying the focus on the pilots.
But after a week of remarkably candid press briefings, Hersman made clear investigators still "have a lot of information to review."
She referred to the crash as "a very significant event. There's a lot of interest in it and we want to make sure that we complete this investigation as expeditiously as possible."
A typical NTSB investigation takes a year to 18 months to determine what -- or who -- caused the plane to crash. But Hersman hopes to have the investigation finished sooner, although she wouldn't provide a more precise timeline.
Late Thursday, crews were scheduled to begin carving up and removing the carcass of the Boeing 777 from the airport's runway 28 Left. Some pieces of the aircraft, including the emergency evacuation slides that deployed inside the cabin, will be sent back to Washington, while other parts will be stored in a secure hangar in the Bay Area.
Hersman said SFO officials "want that airport open. So I want you to know that they've put pressure on us, but they have not pressured in a way that forced us not to get our job done and we very much appreciate that."
Two 16-year-old girls from China were killed and 182 people were sent to hospitals Saturday morning when the tail of their plane slammed into the runway sea wall while landing at the airport after a more than 10-hour flight from Seoul, South Korea, immediately shutting two of SFO's four runways and triggering a chain reaction that diverted air traffic across California and other parts of the country in the days that followed.
Hersman released new details of the investigation so far:
Cockpit voice recordings captured no discussions about the light "or of the flying pilot seeing the light," Hersman said. "Neither of the other two flight crew members mentioned this light during our interviews." Hersman said the light may have been a reflection of the sun.
SFO officials will wait until the NTSB's investigation is complete before releasing 911 tapes. But Wednesday night the California Highway Patrol released its 911 calls of people reporting the crash and its aftermath.
A woman's voice in the background of one call made by a hiker can be heard saying, "Where the hell's the fire engines?"
Another told dispatchers, "There is a woman out here on the ... runway who is pretty much burned very severely on the head, and we don't know what to do. ... She is severely burned, and she will probably die soon if we don't get any help."
As the dispatcher reassured the woman that ambulances were on the way, the woman reiterated her fears the victim would die, and she didn't know what to do.
"Is there any way we can help in any way?" she asked.
Another caller said she had been on the tarmac for at least 20 minutes and pleaded for medical attention.
"We've been on the ground for 20 minutes to a half-hour," said the woman, who identified herself as Cindy Stone. "We're almost losing a woman here, we're trying to keep her alive."
Staff writers Eric Kurhi and Katie Nelson contributed to this report. Contact Dan Nakaso at 408-271-3648. Follow him at Twitter.com/dannakaso.