"Our response was immediate," Talmadge said. "It's not what you may see in the movies. That's not how a real-life response is to a large-scale incident."
Most of the passengers who were hurt had only minor injuries and were quickly treated and released from hospitals. On Thursday, just nine remained hospitalized, three in critical condition.
Among those who walked away without serious injury were the four pilots, including Lee Gang-kuk, who was landing the big jet for his first time at the San Francisco airport, and Lee Jeong-Min, who was training him.
While the two men had years of aviation experience, this mission involved unfamiliar duties, and it was the first time they had flown together.
Hersman clarified Thursday that the pilot trainee told investigators he saw a flash of light at about 500 feet, which would have been 34 seconds before impact and the point at which the airliner began to slow and drop precipitously. She said he told investigators that the light did not prevent him from seeing his instruments, and that it may have been a reflection of the sun. The other pilots made no mention of a light, she said.
Hersman also said there were two calls to abort the landing, the first came about three seconds before impact, the second, from a different pilot, about 1.5 seconds later.
While the pilots were manually flying the jet for the landing, as expected on a clear, sunny day, they told investigators they thought the airliner's speed was being controlled by an autothrottle set for 157 mph.
Inspectors found that the autothrottle had been "armed," or made ready for activation, Hersman said. But investigators are still determining whether it had been engaged. In the last two minutes, there was a lot of use of autopilot and autothrottle, and investigators are going to look into whether pilots made the appropriate commands and if they knew what they were doing, she said.
Even if the autothrottle malfunctioned, Hersman stressed, the pilots were ultimately responsible for control of the airliner.
"There are two pilots in the cockpit for a reason," she said. "They're there to fly, to navigate, to communicate and if they're using automation, a big key is to monitor."
When the pilots realized the plane was in trouble, they both reached for the throttle. Passengers heard a loud roar as the plane revved up in a last-minute attempt to abort the landing.
The flight originated in Shanghai and stopped over in Seoul before making the nearly 11-hour trip to San Francisco.
On Wednesday, other survivors and their family members visited the crash site, where some shed tears and others stood in disbelief. They were kept about 50 yards away from the wreckage, which was surrounded by metal railing.
"What I think I really came for was to meet other fellow passengers and share a bit of our stories," passenger Ben Levy said. "How we felt and how we got out of that plane."
California congresswomen Nancy Pelosi and Jackie Speier planned to tour the crash site Thursday evening.