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San Francisco plane crash has some fliers wanting more information on pilots

Published: Sunday, July 21 2013 7:05 p.m. MDT

The wreckage of Asiana Flight 214, which crashed on Saturday, July 6, 2013, is seen on a tarmac at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Tuesday, July 9, 2013.

Jeff Chiu, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Many fliers are questioning whether the pilots of their plane are up for the job, following the July 6 crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214.

An investigation into the crash indicates the pilots, a trainee and his instructor, failed to realize until too late that the aircraft was dangerously low and flying too slow, the Associated Press reported. The pilot had just 43 hours of experience flying a Boeing 777, which is a jumbo jet.

Salt Lake traveler Gordon Poulson said he would like to know how much experience pilots have.

"I would kind of like a background," Poulson said. "I mean, people check out businesses all the time and do research on them. I don't think there's anything wrong with checking out your pilot's background and history."

Other passengers interviewed at the Salt Lake City International Airport said they don't worry too much about who is flying them, though. "We've traveled a lot," said Philip Jarell, from Shenyang, China. "Generally, airlines are safe and there are very few accidents. It doesn't seem a question that needs asking."

Getting information on pilots can be a challenge. Passengers first need to get the pilot's name, but in many cases that's easier said than done and doesn't typically happen.

"(It's) to protect their privacy," said Southwest Airlines spokesman Chris Mainz. "The flight crew could change if we run into issues with delays, or flight crews running out of hours."

Mainz said if passengers want to know about pilots, they should talk to them personally. When asked about his background, Southwest pilot Bryan Grosgebauer said he has nothing to hide.

"I'm proud of my heritage, and what I've done as a pilot," he said during an interview at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

Grosgebauer has been flying commercially for 30 years and he's never had passengers question or be wary of his abilities.

"That would be fairly extreme; we call that person a white-knuckler," he said. "They have the freedom to do that, but I would never recommend that someone do that."

Grosgebauer said reporting pilot error has vastly improved over the past 30 years because the public, airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration have all demanded it.

Passengers must take down the pilots' names and search the FAA database at amsrvs.registry.faa.gov/airmeninquiry after the flight. If they want more information, they can file a Freedom of Information Act request with the FAA, which could take months. Even then, retired Delta Capt. Valerie Walker of Sandy said the records may not help.

"You can hurt a lot of innocent people and really not do yourself any good by making assumptions that are not correct based on data that really doesn't give you a clear picture," she said.

Walker added no one can know what planes the pilots have flown, in which circumstances and what they learned. It's clear, however, that negligent and drunken pilots don't get to fly anymore.

"That's a definite firing if not a jail term," she said.

Email: psamore@deseretnews.com

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