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In San Francisco plane crash, investigators eye navigation equipment

An Asiana Airlines passenger aircraft coming from Seoul,

An Asiana Airlines passenger aircraft coming from Seoul, South Korea, crashed while landing at San Francisco International Airport in California. (July 6, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

Federal investigators are trying to determine whether a piece of airport navigation equipment that was out of service played any role in the deadly crash of Asiana Flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport.

Aviation experts, including two from the metropolitan area, said even if the glide scope indicator at the airport was down Saturday, the experienced flight crew piloting the South Korean jetliner should have been able to land safely.

Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday that the runway's glide slope indicator, which pilots can use to help determine their altitude on approach, had been out of service since June because of a construction project. But she said it's not yet clear whether that played a role.

Maxine Lubner, professor and department chair at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in Flushing, Queens, said if the system was down, it would leave more room for pilot error. "That kind of approach over the water could be visually deceiving," she said.

Lubner said while humans can make quicker calculations in some instances than automated flight systems -- such as US Airways pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger's "miracle" landing on the Hudson River -- it also can lead to disaster.

She said there are discussions in the aviation community that "with so many automated landings, there are not enough manual landings, you get rusty."

Michael Canders, a professor of aviation at Farmingdale State College and a retired Air Force rescue pilot, said even if the system was down it should not have affected the landing during good weather. "The fact that it's down, I don't think it would've been a factor," he said. "There should be a proficiency to land aircraft manually."

With David Schwartz

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