While the two men had years of aviation experience, this mission involved unfamiliar duties, and it was the first time they had flown together.
The pilots were assigned to work together through a tightly regulated system developed after several deadly crashes in the 1980s were blamed in part on inexperience in the cockpit, NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said Wednesday.
"We are certainly interested to see if there are issues where there are challenges to crew communication, if there's an authority break in where people won't challenge one another," she said.
Pilots are trained to communicate their concerns openly, she said, "to make sure that a junior pilot feels comfortable challenging a senior pilot and to make sure the senior pilot welcomes feedback in a cockpit environment from all members of the crew and considers it."
Hersman said the pilot trainee told investigators he was blinded by a 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 lasers have not been ruled out. It was unclear, however, whether the flash might have played a role in the crash.
Hersman also said a third pilot in the jump seat of the cockpit told investigators he was warning them their speed was too slow as they approached the runway.
And she said when the plane came to a stop, pilots told passengers to stay seated for 90 seconds while they communicated with the tower as part of a safety procedure. Hersman said this has happened after earlier accidents and was not necessarily a problem. People did not begin fleeing the aircraft until 90 seconds later when a fire was spotted outside the plane.
Hersman stressed that while the trainee pilot was flying the plane, the instructor was ultimately responsible, and thus the way they worked together will be scrutinized.