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TODAY   |  July 08, 2013

Black boxes reveal final seconds of Asiana flight

The flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, known as black boxes, are shedding light on what happened in the final few seconds of Asiana Flight 214, when a pilot said they needed to increase speed. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> details this morning on that terrible plane crash in san francisco .

>> that's right, the pilot, while experienced with other aircraft, had logged just 43 hours on a boeing 777 and had neverlanded one in san francisco . let's get right to nbc's tom costello who covers aviation for us. tom, good morning to you.

>> reporter: hi, matt, good morning. that's the crash scene over my shoulders. those lights across the water. we know that lee kang-kuk, one of four pilots on board this aircraft. you're right, only 44 hours in the 777, only flown nine times, but had nearly 10,000 hours in total and had flown in here 29 times, including in a 747. so what went wrong? nobody knows right now. the ntsb is hoping to talk to the crew today. we do know it appears this crew was coming in too low, too slow. they tried to abort at the last minute, but it was far too late. the so-called brach black boxes , flight data and cockpit voice recorders are shedding light what happened in the final seconds of asiana flight 218. during the approach, the conversations in the cockpit were routine, no indication of any problems until just seconds before landing. at seven seconds before impact, a call from one of the pilots to increase the speed. the 777 was coming in too slow, below its target speed of 137 knots, just over 157 miles per hour.

>> we're not talking about a few knots here. we're talking about a significant amount of speed below 137.

>> reporter: just three seconds later, the crew gets a warning, the plane is about to stall, losing lift, and its ability to fly. less than two seconds before impact, the pilot calls to abort the landing, but it's too late. the jet slams into the seawall at the runway's edge. this image from an eyewitness shows the plane's final seconds as it twists and slams on to the runway.

>> they were calling for more power, they tried to abort the landing. and unfortunately, gravity took over and they weren't able to salvage and get that airplane back airborne before striking the ground.

>> reporter: moments after the crash as fire rescue crews raced to the scene, a united pilot, already on the runway, urgently radios the tower.

>> we see people and i think we see they need attention. they're alive and walking around.

>> united 885, roger. you said people are just walking outside the airplane right now?

>> yeah, some people look like they're struggling.

>> the impact was so powerful.

>> i thought before i left the plane that it might blow up and i might die.

>> in your head, everything goes in slow motion and you just don't believe it's happening.

>> reporter: meanwhile, our first look inside the plane, oxygen masks hanging from the ceiling, and some seats knocked over. while on the runway, investigators examined part of the tail, a piece of landing gear , and the charred wreckage of the boeing jet, looking for clues to what caused this terrible disaster. there's one more terrible twist to this story. and that is that now appears it's possible that one of the two teenagers who died in this crash may have been hit by responding fire rescue vehicle. it's not at all clear yet if that may have caused her death. but the coroner is investigating that. matt, back to you.

>> all right. tom costello in