The final sounds from the cockpit of the Korean Air Lines Boeing 747 that slammed into a hillside in Guam last year were those of groans, a report released Tuesday said.
All three men in the cockpit -- the pilot, first officer and flight engineer -- died in the Aug. 6, 1997, crash of Korean Air Lines flight 801, along with 225 others. There were 26 survivors.
Transcripts from the cockpit voice recorder, made public Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board, showed that the crew believed they missed on their initial approach to Won Pat International Airport in Agana, capital of the self-governing U.S. territory, and were attempting to go around for a second landing attempt when the crash occurred.
Everything in the cockpit appeared normal until less than 30 seconds before disaster struck. The first officer, Kyung Ho Song said in reference to the airport, "Not in sight."
The flight engineer, Suk Hoon Nam, responded by saying "Eh?" in what the safety panel report described as an "astonished tone." Seconds later Song was heard saying, "Let's make a missed approach," followed by "Not in sight, missed approach."
The pilot, Yong Chul Park, responded by saying, "Go around."
At that point, according to the report, the plane's Ground Proximity Warning System "began a rapid succession of radio altitude call outs: '50, 40, 30, 20 (feet from the ground) ,' " the report said.
Following the sound of the initial impact the voice recorder picked up the "sound of groans" from the cockpit.
The safety panel report said two navigation aids that could have helped the Boeing 747 land safely were not in operation.
Citing data retrieved from the plane's flight data recorder, the report said the jumbo jet was flying several hundred feet below the recommended altitude for the airport approach and the pilot was trying to gain altitude seconds before the crash.
The report said a minimum safe altitude warning system that would have alerted air traffic controllers that the jet was below 1,700 feet -- the minimum safe altitude -- was taken out of service by the Federal Aviation Administration "as a means of eliminating what local air traffic controllers perceived as nuisance warnings."
But subsequent tests conducted by the safety board at the FAA's test center in New Jersey indicated that had the altitude warning system been operating, the alert would have been generated as the plane was descending through 1,700 feet, 64 seconds before the crash.
A safety board official said the absence of the altitude warning system would be an "important issue" at a three-day public hearing into the crash starting in Honolulu Tuesday.