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A Few Thoughts on Asiana Airlines Flight 214 Crash at SFO

Photo of the Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 flight 214 crash from the NTSB.

Photo of the Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 flight 214 crash from the NTSB.

There is no question that the crash of Asiana Airlines flight 214 is tragic and we are all looking forward to finding out exactly what happened. As more facts and opinions come in about the crash, here are just some of my raw thoughts:

  • It is not a miracle: I have been reading quite a bit about how so many people survived was a “miracle.” I am not trying to say that this was not amazing, but I think by just saying it was a “miracle,” really down plays all the hard work and effort that so many people have put in through the years to increase the chances of surviving an accident. Thousands of people have died from airline accidents and after each accident every aspect of the business is made safer. There have been many smart people in aerospace that have designed and built aircraft, the items inside and airports in ways to reduce the likelihood of injuries and deaths.  Finally, the passengers & crew on flight 214 and the emergency responders on the ground did an amazing job evacuating everyone. Even with the speculation that a fire truck might have been involved with one of the two deaths, the quick response and evacuation saved lives [read a good detailed account via the WSJ and Philly.com]. Call it a miracle if you must, but also be sure to follow up by appreciating the people that helped to keep this accident from being worse.
  • A little perspective: It is no question that the two deaths from this crash and those who will forever be scarred is no small thing. I cannot imagine what the family of those who were lost are going through and by no means am I trying to down play these loses. We are all lucky to be in a time where an accident like this does not cause more deaths. Statistically, in the US there are about 90 people who die each day in auto accidents. This is far, far less than even a fraction of the fatalities we see from airline accidents. Flying is still very safe and will only continue to become safer.

  • Try not to give passengers with bags a hard time: There has been quite a bit of harassment given to those passengers who were seen evacuating the 777 with their carry-on bags (see the photo here). At first glance I can see how that is bad and it might seem they are trying to be selfish by bringing their belongings. However, most of them are probably not thinking logically and are in some form of shock. I, by no means have experienced something this horrific, but when I had an opportunity to sit-in at evacuation training with Air Tran a few years back, I experienced a similar confusion. I knew it was not real, I knew what was going to happen, but the dark, the smoke pumped in the fuselage and the yelling caused genuine chaos for me. Even though I was being told to grab my life vest, I forgot it at my seat. I could easily see how someone who might have just gone through something that horrific, not knowing what to do, might grab their luggage out of habit. At least I hope this is the case.
  • Most covered airline accident: This will likely be the best [or at least most] covered airline crash in the US that we have ever seen. Already, we have been able to see photos from a perspective rarely seen before: from the ground outside the plane, video of the crash and close up shots from the NTSB via Twitter. All this information should allow for a speedy and thorough investigation, but it also allows for more speculation. Sometimes talking through ideas is not always a bad thing, but it is hard to make final conclusions without having all the evidence.
  • Do not hate too much on the media: There seems to be quite a bit of frustration from #AvGeeks on how some in the media are handling this incident and have improper facts. Realize that most journalists do not specialize in aviation and are doing their best to fill time with information and commentary live and that is not an easy feat.
  • The NTSB is doing a great job: I just want to give a shout out to the NTSB for doing an amazing job during their press conferences and even via their Twitter account at keeping the media and general public informed. The best way to battle mis-information is to be actively giving out the proper information and the NTSB seems to be delivering.

I could take months before we know the whole picture or it might take a few days. Until then, let’s have a healthy conversation of our thoughts with this accident and let’s hope we can learn more to continue to make air travel even safer.

This story written by… David Parker Brown, Editor & Founder.David started AirlineReporter.com in the summer of 2008, but has had a passion for aviation since he was a kid. Born and raised in the Seattle area (where he is currently based) has surely had an influence and he couldn’t imagine living anywhere else in the world.

@ARdpb | Flickr | YouTube | david@airlinereporter.com

33 comments to A Few Thoughts on Asiana Airlines Flight 214 Crash at SFO

  • joan m johnson

    THis is w/o a doubt the dumbest article I have read regarding this tragic event. If this is the way this site is run, I no longer want any part of it. “Call it a miracle if you must?” What a stupid thing to say. And your name isn’t on the article for credit/discredit.

  • joan m johnson

    Excuse me. You are David Parker Brown. I was wrong. Who edits you, Mr. Brown?

  • Michelle Bernath

    Wow Joan, kind of harsh, don’t you think?

    He’s right, on all counts, and this is a very well-written article, and in fact, I suggested to my boss that for coverage of this event, he follow this site, as it’s less sensationalized, far more factual, and updated better and more frequently with actual facts and data than the news sites, including CNN and the AP.

    I am a believer in miracles, however, I also am a believer in man-made miracles, such as this one. I know how safe our airplanes are, and I also am well aware of the intense training the flight crews receive so that they can deal with the “in the unlikely event” scenarios such as these.

    Perhaps you just need some more coffee. In any case, I would suggest you do a little further research before writing such a scathing review of one article.

    Cheers!
    MB

  • Wow!

    Woke up on the wrong side of the bed Joan??

    A GREAT article David…and a lot of good perspective on aviation that most people are not aware of. I agree with your points 100%

  • brian

    I appreciated the perspective presented for each of the comments. Thank you.

  • Scott

    Thanks, David, for your post. It’s well though-out and written. Keep up the good work.

  • petten

    There are reports that a passenger on the plane (Mr. Levy) said that the crew were overwhelmed after the crash, and passengers basically helped each other to get out of the plane.

    So all these talks about the crew having done an amazing job to get the passengers out are just silly speculation not based on facts.

    • Simon

      So, you conveniently miss the part where one of the crew members went back into the burning wreckage, having already helped people out, to carry someone incapacitated by injury on her back.

      The reports that the crew helped each other are true, in so much that two of the slides opened on the inside of the cabin and trapped the crew members under them, one of which was choking to death under the weight of the slide until rescued by her colleagues. You, I suspect, are the one labouring on silly speculation and it’s mostly in your head.

    • A circle of speculation for sure. But I did just update the story to say “crew & passengers.”

      David

  • petten

    Though a firetruck might have run over one of the two passengers who died, the two sat near/in the tail section of plane that struck the ground first and hardest. No wonder. It could have been much worse.

  • petten

    It’s pilot error the first moment one saw the trail of debris starting from the seawall.

    The NTSB is just a waste of tax payers’ money, contributing to the froth (unproductive part) in the nation’s GDP, which will get even more frothy when the ambulance-chasing lawyers start filing (class) lawsuits.

    • tom

      the ntsb are professional investigators, who will determine the real cause of the crash, and make recommendations for how to avoid similar crashes in the future. probably the best “waste” of taxpayers’ money that i can think of.

      cowboys and speculation won’t.

  • Would much rather read this website than the main news sites, always better to get an #avgeek perspective and someone who knows what they are saying! Thanks for the updates! Nik

  • Lee Jones

    You are absolutely, 100% wrong about the luggage issue. Every single person who took the time and personal space to carry out luggage should be shamed, period. Time is of the essence in a situation like this, and milliseconds count. Among all the reports, one refrain is heard over and over: “Very lucky that this wasn’t worse, especially considering how bad the plane looks.” And that’s exactly why you shouldn’t give any leeway to anyone who took luggage off of this flight: because the next time there’s a horrific plane crash, people are going to think, “Oh, I have plenty of time to stand in everyone’s way in the aisle while getting my luggage. After all, everything turned out mostly OK in that Asiana crash, and they took _their_ luggage.” But the next time, people probably won’t be that lucky, and the fire won’t wait until everyone’s out of the plane before it becomes deadly. I highly doubt people were in such shock that they grabbed things “instinctively.” I’ve been in a serious car wreck, one where I was apparently in shock and shaking for hours afterward. But I still had the good sense to drag myself out of my car to make sure everyone in the other car was breathing and alive, check that nothing was leaking gas or on fire, and call 911, before I started fussing around with my briefcase and looking for my registration and insurance card. In a plane crash, THERE IS NO TIME FOR LUGGAGE, PERIOD. No one with any common sense would dispute that. And if these luggage-selfish passengers were in shock? Well, all the more reason to start hammering in the message on all media: In case of plane crash, LEAVE THE LUGGAGE, or be publicly shamed. Then, maybe the next time, when the time involved in stopping for luggage might mean the difference between someone else’s life or death, maybe the message will have been heard enough that NOT taking the luggage will be the instinct while in shock. But the one thing that will not help at all is to excuse the luggage-carriers’ selfish behavior, whatever their excuses.

    Seriously…why don’t you go ahead and make some excuses for people who DUI while you’re at it?

    • I agree with the fact that there is no time for personal luggage and it all should be left in the aircraft.

      Maybe it was their bag, but maybe it was blocking the way and they were removing it to get it out the of the way for the overall benefit of the other passengers.

      We do not know and until we do know I rather give them the benefit of the doubt that they were disoriented and were not being selfish.

      David

      • Roger

        While I don’t condone exiting with bags, I certainly understand why it happens. Remember that people have had their brain in a mode for hours or days of keep your stuff with you at all times, do not let it out of your sight, you must have your passport, tickets, money and medicine with you, not having your stuff will be problematic etc. That becomes a very strong instinct for passengers. When in a state of shock, it can be easy for that instinct to kick in.

        Other possibilities include the bags falling into the aisles during the crash so there so they have to be carried out since there is nowhere to put them as all the seats have people in them also trying to get out.

        You (David) are right that uninformed knee jerk reactions aren’t helpful. The NTSB did mention they would be investigating the evacuation, so why don’t we all wait for the facts.

  • JohnSD23

    I don’t agree with you regarding the stupidity of the media, nor the comments regarding grabbing luggage during an evacuation. As far as the media goes, “I do not have the answer but will get it for you” is a perfect answer. If you don’t know, say so – no shame. If anyone so much as looks at a safety card or safety video, knowing you shouldn’t be stopping to get your luggage should be ingrained in memory. Of course, that would require that folks stop talking and pay attention to someone other than themselves for the 5 minutes, which explains why so many passengers opt out of that option. One person stopping in an aisle to grab a bag could prevent another person from escaping, and I will never condone or forgive that action.

  • John O

    I know in other evacuations (although I can’t think of the incidents) a number of the passengers exited the aircraft with their hand luggage. What is the reason? I attribute it to them being clueless.

  • John G

    A few comments.

    First, David is 100% right. This was no “miracle”. It was the result of safety systems, design systems, and trained professionals. It’s not a miracle humans no longer die from smallpox – we found a way to prevent it.

    We spent a great deal of time, energy, and expense in trying to find ways to prevent as many deaths in this type of event as possible. The people within are trained for that. The announcements to the passengers on every flight are designed with this in mind.

    Second, with regard to the NTSB, changes mandated by prior investigations of accidents have saved tens of thousands of lives. This ties into the “miracle” argument – because we spent time and energy looking into past accidents, even where the cause of the event is pretty obvious, as it is here, we have found ways to prevent or reduce future problems. The NTSB is a very appropriate and necessary use of my tax dollars, thank you very much.

    Lastly, to the baggage issue. Take a look at the picture below.

    http://l3.yimg.com/bt/api/res/1.2/YXeP13e16dGpEzIIGMzWDw–/YXBwaWQ9eW5ld3M7cT04NTt3PTYwMA–/http://media.zenfs.com/en_us/News/Reuters/2013-07-08T145819Z_3_CBRE9661TCG00_RTROPTP_2_USA-CRASH-ASIANA.JPG

    A lot of the bins appear to have been broken open by the impact. It’s not hard to think that some of the bags wound up lying on the passengers. If my bag lands on me, I’m not hunting for a place to lay it down, I’m taking it with me.

    David does a great job with this site. To say that it’s the “dumbest article” on this event is really, really silly. I thought the article was thoughtful and coherent.

  • Roger

    I wish someone would calculate approximately how many of the ~3,000 deaths on American roads each month are driving to or from the airport. It would be nice to put that in perspective with the toll from crashes.

  • Good story, DPB! It offers a refreshingly different perspective on an event the MSM hasn’t really considered…surprise, surprise!

    As to reasons to taking off your carry-on, did any critic ever stop to think these pax might have had humanitarian reasons for doing so? I’ve got several items in my bag, such as flashlights (yep, as in plural) and paracord, that could be useful in an accident. I’m not certain whether this happened here, but who knows for sure?

    TXCOMT

  • Noel

    Great article David, much better than some of the mass hysteria being peddled by other media outlets.

    @petten what an ill considered comment, the number of lives that have been saved by NTSB (and the like) investigations is incalculable.

    @Lee Jones obviously you have been in the situation where a widebody jetliner carrying 300 people crashes. I’m sure you believe you would be calm, cool and would make completely rationale decisions. Until you experience this type of situation you should not judge the reaction of others. I hate to be the bearer of bad news sir, human being reaction during a high stress situation is difficult to understand, they are prone to making irrational decisions and mistakes.

    @joan m johnson I would make a comment about yours however it would be superfluous because we won’t be seeing you on this site again.

  • joan m johnson

    OK. I apologize for being so harsh. Will you accept it?

  • Nalliah Thayabharan

    On January 23, 2013, the Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre (JACDEC) announced that Korean Airlines had the fifth worst safety record among 60 international airlines that were reviewed.

    On January 06, 2007 – Korean Air Lines Flight 769 from Seoul to Akita, Japan, landed on an unoccupied taxiway instead of the intended runway 10, which was the airport’s only runway. The Boeing 737-900 aircraft with 124 passengers and 9 crew landed without any injury or damage.

    On April 15, 1999 Korean Air Cargo Flight 6316 (McDonnell Douglas MD-11) from Shanghai to Seoul took off despite the Korean co-pilot’s repeated misunderstanding and miscommunication with the tower and the pilot. The aircraft climbed to 1,500 meters and the captain, after receiving two wrong affirmative answers from the first officer that the required altitude should be 500 meters, thought that the aircraft was 1,000 meters too high. The captain then pushed the control column abruptly forward causing the aircraft to start a rapid descent. Neither was able to recover from the dive. The airplane plummeted into an industrial development zone 10 kilometers southwest of Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport. The plane plunged to the ground, hitting housing for migrant workers, and exploded.

    On March 15, 1999 – Korean Air Flight 1533 (McDonnell Douglas MD-83) from Seoul to Pohang departed for Pohang. Weather at Pohang was poor with degraded visibility and gusty 25 knot winds. The pilot failed at the first attempt to land. After the second approach the plane touched down, but overran the runway. The aircraft skidded through 10 antennas, a reinforced barbed wire fence and came to rest against an embankment. The landing snapped the fuselage in half.

    On August 05, 1998 – Korean Air Flight 8702 (Boeing 747-400) from Tokyo to Seoul. The flight departed Tokyo at 16:50 for a flight to Seoul, scheduled to arrive there at 19:20. Inclement weather at Seoul forced the flight crew to divert to Jeju. The aircraft took off from Cheju at 21:07 bound for Seoul. On landing in Seoul, the 747 bounced multiple times and slid 100 meters off the runway before coming to a stop in a grassy area.

    On August 06 1997 – Korean Air Flight 801 (Boeing 747-3B5) from Seoul to Agana, Guam, The crew attempted a night-time approach to Guam runway 06L. Flight 801 had descended 250 meters below the prescribed altitude, struck the 225 meters Nimitz Hill at a height of 200 meters and crashed in a jungle valley, breaking up and bursting into flames. Subsequent investigation found that the captain’s failure to adequately brief and execute the non-precision approach and the first officer’s and flight engineer’s failure to effectively monitor and cross-check the captain’s execution of the approach were directly responsible for the crash. It was the first fatal crash of the Boeing 747-300. Contributing factors were the captain’s fatigue and Korean Air’s inadequate flight crew training.

    On September 22 1994 – Korean Air Flight 916F (Boeing 747) from Zurich to Busan. Eight days prior, the aircraft had encountered a severe hailstorm over Elba, Italy which led to a near miss incident. The aircraft sustained severe damage to the radome, cockpit windows and engines but managed to reach Zurich safely. Some repair work was done, but the aircraft needed to be ferried to Busan for final repairs. Boeing released the aircraft with some take-off performance changes, which included a limited gross weight by 70,000 pounds and increased takeoff speeds for V1, V2 and VR by 15, 17 and 14 knots respectively. The aircraft was cleared for a Runway 14 takeoff and ZUE 5P departure. After a long take-off run, the aircraft lifted off the runway at the very end and climbed slowly. At 900 meters beyond the runway end the aircraft cleared some adjacent buildings at fewer than 50 meters. Subsequent investigation found that despite clear instructions to reduce weight, the crew had overloaded the aircraft by 86,700 pounds

    On August 10 1994 – Korean Air Flight 2033 (Airbus A300) from Seoul to Jeju, the flight approached faster than usual to avoid potential wind-shear. 15 meters above the runway the co-pilot, who was not flying the aircraft, decided that there was insufficient runway left to land and tried to perform a go-around against the captain’s wishes. The aircraft touched down 1,773 meters beyond the runway threshold. The aircraft could not be stopped on the remaining 1,227 meters of runway and overran at a speed of 104 knots. After striking the airport wall and a guard post at 30 knots, the aircraft burst into flames and was incinerated. The cabin crew was credited with safely evacuating all passengers although only half of the aircraft’s emergency exits were usable

    On June 13 1991 – Korean Air (Boeing 727) from Jeju to Daegu, the aircraft performed an unexpected gear-up landing at Daegu. The crew failed to read out the landing procedure checklist and therefore didn’t select the gear down option. Subsequent investigation revealed that the pilot instructed the co-pilot to pull the fuse from the warning system because the repeated warnings that the landing gear was not deployed were, “irritating and distracting,” him as he attempted to land. With the warning horn disabled, the Korean pilot brought the plane in and slid down the length of the runway on the central structural rib in the belly of the aircraft
    On July 27 1989 – Korean Air Flight 803 (McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30) from Jeddah to Tripoli. The aircraft initially departed Seoul on a flight to Tripoli with intermediate stops at Bangkok and Jeddah. Visibility was varying between 100–800 feet and the runway 27 ILS had been reported unserviceable. On final approach to runway 27 the aircraft crashed short of the runway, striking 4 houses and a number of cars.
    December 23, 1983 – Korean Air Cargo Flight 084 (McDonnell Douglas DC-10) from Anchorage to Los Angeles, while taxiing out in fog, the Korean crew became disoriented and ended up on the wrong runway. During the takeoff run, the aircraft collided head-on with Southcentral Air Flight 59, a Piper Pa-31 which was taking off from runway 6L-24R for a flight to Kenai. The nine occupants of the South Central Air flight were injured. The DC-10 overran the runway by 1,434 feet and came to rest 40 feet right of the extended centerline. Federal Investigators determined that the Korean pilot had failed to follow accepted procedures during taxi – causing disorientation while selecting the runway. The pilot also failed to use the compass to confirm his position. Ultimately the pilot’s decision to proceed with takeoff without ever knowing if he was on the correct runway caused the impact.
    September 01, 1983 – Korean Air Flight 007 (Boeing 747-230B) departed from New York City for Seoul via Anchorage. At 5:00 AM the flight was cleared directly to the Bethel VOR beacon and then on to the Romeo 20 route. The pilot mistakenly diverted from its intended course and passed 12 miles north of the Bethel beacon. While approaching the Kamchatka peninsula, six Soviet MiG-23 fighters were scrambled. Because a U.S. Air Force Boeing RC-135 intelligence plane was flying in the area east off Kamchatka, the Soviets may have assumed the 747 radar echo to be the RC-135. The flight left Soviet airspace over the Sea of Okhotsk and the fighters returned to their base. Passing abeam the Nippi beacon (four hours after take-off), the aircraft was 185 miles off course and headed for Sakhalin. Two Soviet Su-15 ‘Flagon’ fighters were scrambled from the Dolinsk-Sokol airbase. At 18:16 UTC, flight 007 re-entered Soviet airspace. At 18:22, for the second time, Soviet command ordered destruction of the target. Two air-to-air missiles were launched by one of the fighters and one struck the Boeing at 18:26. Cabin pressure was lost and the aircraft suffered control problems, causing the plane, after a 12 minute flight, to spiral into the sea near Moneron Island. The event was denounced by the US Reagan Administration as a deliberate and wanton act of murder by an “evil empire.

    On April 20, 1978 – Korean Air Flight 902 (Boeing 707) departed from Paris for Anchorage and flew to within 780 km of the North Pole when Canadian officials alerted the crew they were off course. They changed course, but worsened the situation by setting a course directly across the Barents Sea and Soviet airspace. The plane was initially recognized by Soviet anti-aircraft defense radars as a Boeing 747. Sukhoi Su-15TM jets were sent to intercept. When both jets were flying next to the Korean airliner, the Korean captain claimed he slowed the plane and initiated landing lights. Nevertheless the Su-15 crews were ordered to shoot down the plane. According to US intelligence sources the Soviet pilot tried for several minutes to convince his superiors to cancel the attack on the civilian airliner. After an additional order two P-60 rockets were launched. The first missed but the second severely damaged the left wing and shrapnel punctured the fuselage, causing rapid decompression that killed two passengers. The Korean pilot initiated an emergency descent to 5,000 feet and entered clouds. Both Soviet jets lost the Korean plane in the clouds. The aircraft continued at low altitude, crossing the Kola Peninsula while searching for a landing opportunity. With night quickly coming on, several unsuccessful attempts were made before the plane landed on the ice of Lake Korpijärvi, near Kem, USSR. All occupants were rescued by Soviet helicopters. Damage– severe, Injuries– multiple, Deaths- 2 (two of 197 passengers)
    On August 02 1976 – Korean Air (Boeing 707) cargo flight departed from Tehran for Seoul when, on takeoff from runway 29, the aircraft inexplicably deviated from the Standard Instrument Departure (SID) procedure and drifted to the right instead of performing a left turnout. It continued and struck mountains at an altitude of 2,020 meters

  • TC99

    What does this have to do with this crash? This was an Asiana flight, not Korean Airlines. Also, Korean Air’s safety record is improving.

  • andy

    Miracle is a subjective term – it wouldn’t be my editorial choice to lead with calling the minimal casualties a non-miracle. Was it a tragedy? YES. Was it a victory for engineering? YES. Was it also lucky that the aircraft didn’t stall earlier and hit the seawall with more of the fuselage than just the tail? YES. So perhaps you wouldn’t call it a miracle, but I’m sure that those that walked away from it felt it was pretty miraculous.

    Otherwise – kudos to this site for some pretty great coverage.

  • JerryF

    I have to say that my wife & I fly KR, OZ, CI, BR PQ plus other local air lines. Better in every way over the US flagged carriers.
    Flew OZ CRK to SYR in Jan, perfect trip to Chicago, Sucked Chicago – SYR on United. Same on return in March.
    If I had some place to go, I would get on OZ tomorrow.

  • yarpos

    you may want to correct this para in the “a little perspective” section.

    “Statistically, in the US there are about 90 people who die each day in auto accidents. This is far, far less than even a fraction of the fatalities we see from airline accidents.”

    If 30,000 fatalities per year was less than even a fraction of the fatalaties we see from airline accidents , we would be in a bad place.

  • Ken

    People who take baggage off during a event such as this should be charged with endangering life and if proofed that a person died because of thier actions charge woud be murder full stop no ifs or butts.

    Also I think a/c are getting to smart you think its doing one thing but it KNOWS it’s doing some thing else ie auto throttle thought it was in when its seems it was not so not maintaining bug speed on approuch. Me 45 years as a British engineer 32 years holding a licence on Dc10’s and Airbus old and new. I am sure this is going to turn out crew error but shall wait for the report.

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