S. Korea sends protest letter to NTSB over plane crash probe: sources

SEOUL, July 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has sent a letter to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in protest to what it views as excessive disclosure of information linked to the ongoing investigation of the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in San Francisco, government sources said Sunday.

The Boeing 777 plane, carrying 291 passengers and 16 crew members, crashed on July 6 when its tail hit a seawall at the end of the runway at San Francisco International Airport. Asiana Airlines is South Korea's second-largest flag carrier.

Three Chinese schoolgirls were killed with about 180 others injured in the accident.

According to the sources, South Korea's transportation ministry faxed the two-page letter written in English to NTSB chief Deborah Hersman on Friday to ask for a faithful and periodic disclosure of accident-related information.

It added that the investigation should be conducted objectively in accordance with international standards, an indirect protest against what it views as excessive disclosure of related information by the NTSB, which is conducting the probe along with its South Korean counterparts.

The letter was sent amid underlying frictions between the two sides over the extent of information disclosure.

The NTSB chief had held daily press conferences for five straight days following the accident, detailing the preliminary results of an analysis of the pilots' statements, flight data and cockpit voice recorder. She also made remarks that some interpreted as allusions to the pilots' responsibility for the plane crash.

In an apparent response to her remarks, Seoul's transportation ministry recently called into question the benefit of making public the pilots' statements and calling for more efforts to verify facts.

"It is desirable for the government to announce something always based on facts, and we need to determine whether the pilots' statements are factual or not," a high-ranking transportation ministry official said during a press conference on Thursday.

"We also need to think about whether it is desirable that making the statements public will help us figure out the cause of the accident."

South Korea and the U.S. have been holding their own press conferences several hours apart, giving different impressions on their approach to the crash investigation. The U.S. investigators have made remarks hinting that the pilots might be responsible for the accident, while South Korea has countered the claims just hours later.

Sources said that South Korea's investigators deployed to the accident site have also been complaining about a lack of cooperation by their U.S. counterparts. They asked for the NTSB to share its daily press briefing materials in advance, but the NTSB just gave them short and verbal summaries, the sources added.

The transportation ministry is expected to have its own chance to interview the four pilots of the ill-fated plane.

They came home on Saturday after being interviewed by investigators jointly from both the U.S. and South Korea. They will get medical checks until Tuesday and then undergo additional face-to-face interviews, the ministry said.

Asiana Airlines, meanwhile, is considering a legal action against the NTSB and a U.S. broadcasting company for mistakenly confirming and airing the false names of the four pilots by using offensive expressions during a recent program.

KTVU, an affiliate of Fox TV, claimed the names it used during the program were confirmed by the NTSB.

"This is a serious case that hurt the fame of not just the four pilots but also our company," a company official said. "We are considering taking a legal action against KTVU that aired the program and the NTSB that is known to have confirmed the names."

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