Let me start by saying that the static screenshot above (not clickable) and the embedded video below, from which it comes, are not about Asiana flight 214 and what did or did not happen to it.
But the video is worth checking out because it gives an idea of what pilots mean when they refer to making a "visual approach." The clip is from a German series (via reader JZ, who is not German but Chinese) and it shows the crew of an enormous Lufthansa Airbus 380, as it comes in for a visual approach to runway 28R at San Francisco. That is the parallel runway -- R for right, L for left -- to runway 28L on which the Asiana plane came to grief. You see both of the runways, side by side, in the shot above.
If you skip ahead to about time 5:45 of this clip, you'll see how such an approach looks from pilots' perspective. At that point, about two minutes from touchdown, the plane is about 2500 feet up and several miles out. Between there and the landing you'll see the way the crew works through its check lists, keeps an eye on the runway to judge the right glide path and another eye on the airspeed and other crucial indicators, and manages the gradual bleed-off of altitude-plus-airspeed that creates the least-disruptive transition between being in the air and being on the ground. You'll see that there are multiple back-ups and reminders -- crew members calling out altitude, automated announcements of distance to the ground, perhaps (though I didn't see it) and ILS signal loaded to display the proper glide-path too. But fundamentally a pilot is watching his way toward the touch-down point, which is what seems to have gone wrong in the Asiana case.
Logistics notes: If you click the playable video below, you'll see the whole approach -- with narration in the original German, which is how the embeddable version comes. If you'd like to get it in English, you can go here. The video doesn't prove anything about the cause of the Asiana crash, but it does a very good job of displaying how a normal good-weather approach over San Francisco Bay looks. And one more aircraft trivia note: if you listen to Air Traffic Control traffic, you know that large planes, like the Boeing 747 or 777, are identified as "heavy." "United 888 heavy, turn left heading 270." The Airbus 380 is so big that its extra identifier is "super," as in "Lufthansa 454 super."
James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. He and his wife, Deborah Fallows, are the authors of the new book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America, which has been a New York Times best seller and is the basis of a forthcoming HBO documentary.