Sunday, July 7, 2013

Asiana flight crash lands in San Francisco (UPDATED)

I woke up this morning to see news alerts of an Asiana Airlines crashlanding and then catching fire, followed by multiple iMessage texts from friends and family who were trying to make sure I wasn't aboard.

So far there have been few details available on casualties from the plane (one report says 40 injuries, some of them critical, with the comments section citing reports of two fatalities), but it appears a lot of passengers were able to slide to safety before the plane caught fire, despite this having been a very hard landing that involved the tail breaking off and the plane apparently spinning around.

Since this is a developing story, I'm including the previous link to the San Francisco Chronicle and to CNN as well as the Huffington Post, all of which tend to update.

The Washington Post is saying that two of the passengers have been reported dead.

The Washington Post says the fatalities were two middle-school girls from China (requiescant in pace, Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia) and that Federal investigators have ruled out mechanical failure (that was quick) and are focusing on pilot error. The Washington Post also has a piece highlighting "South Korean airlines' spotty safety record."

I am normally one of those people who prefers to wait until the facts are out before forming an opinion, but when opinions are being formed before the facts are out, I feel compelled to chime in. It seems awfully fast to rule out a mechanical issue with the plane, before the flight recorders have been analyzed, and the WaPo piece on South Korean carriers' "troubled past" seems like it's meant to be part of a hit piece: What do Korean Airlines accidents have to do with an Asiana Airlines pilot?

The article cites a crash two decades ago and a relatively minor taxiing incident fifteen years ago to conclude that Asiana Airlines has a problem. In the same time period (i.e., 1993 to present) American Airlines experienced more fatal accidents or serious problems, including deaths in 1995, 1999, 2001 (not including the 9/11 hijackings), and 2009 (source).

The hasty conclusion that mechanical error was not at fault and pilot error the likely cause, plus the hit piece, make me wonder if something a tad sinister is going on. This is reportedly the first crash of a Boeing 777, at a time when that company continues to experience some very high-profile problems with its Dreamliner 787 aircraft. The possibility of problems with its high-selling 777 could be a double-whammy that might harm the company.

That's just a thought; I am just a bit perplexed to see those two news items so quickly. I'm also wondering how pilot error could cause the fire on top of the plane.



  1. Kush, did the WaPo piece have room for comments? I think your objections definitely deserve to be heard, especially the part comparing the safety records. Why not post your points there?

  2. "I'm also wondering how pilot error could cause the fire on top of the plane."

    Very, very easily as airplane fuel is extremely, extremely volatile and I'm pretty sure those wings and undercarriage were sparking enough to set that fuel on fire on a crash impact caused by pilot error.

    It's a shame that foreign pilots aren't given breathalyzer and drug tests like U.S. pilots when they crash in the U.S. Could they have been celebrating the pilot's first landing prematurely? We will never know, but I know I won't fly a certain Asian airline ever again as I was last to leave a plane (well after everyone else) and witnessed an inebriated pilot struggling to walk off the plane at SFO.

    1. John, I'm not wondering why the plane could catch fire (even though it had little fuel left) but what the reason is for that particular pattern. Why is the top burned out like that but not the underneath areas? (Or are they?)

      It's possible that the rescue operation ripped open the top of the plane, in such a way that (with the burn marks) it looks like the top was burned away when in fact it was torn.

      And I wholly agree with you about the breathalyzer and drug tests. If I had been a pilot on OZ 214, I'd insist on both tests to show I was not illegally impaired (I assume it's illegal impairment). When I hear of the possibility of pilot error, I'm reminded of Denzel Washington's character in Flight, which reminded me of Northwest Airline pilots flying drunk on "milk runs" in Minnesota and Wisconsin.


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