Asiana 777 Crashes in San Francisco


Follow-up: December 18, 2013

BACK IN JULY, Slate magazine published my take on the Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco. What went wrong, and why? Did pilot experience play a role? Were the challenges of SFO airport a factor? And what about the safety of Korean air carriers? You can read it here.

The article ran only a day or two after the accident, when relatively little was known. One of the issues I took on was whether or not there is something inherently dysfunctional in the training cultures of Korean air carriers. Shortly after the accident, a series of email testimonials began spreading around the Internet, allegedly written by U.S. pilots who worked in Korea or had trained Korean pilots there, vouching for their poor performance — shortcomings that stemmed from a rigidly hierarchical and authoritative cockpit culture.

Initially I dismissed such concerns as outdated. In the 1990s, after a series of accidents, Korea spent a lot of time and money bringing in Western advisers and overhauling its civil aviation system. This included its cockpit training standards. By 2008, an assessment by ICAO said Korean aviation was, overall, the safest in the world, ahead of more than a hundred other countries. Those “culture” issues were a thing of the past.

Or so it seemed. Recent revelations from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, however, are dismaying.

The NTSB findings, presented to the media last week, describe one of the Asiana first officers, who’d been sitting in one of the cockpit jumpseats, neglecting to recommend a go-around, even when the aircraft was in clear danger of crashing, out of deference to the more senior pilots at the controls. And despite the glare of the sun, the pilot performing the approach and landing had opted not to wear sunglasses, in fear that this would somehow “disrespect” the instructor pilot sitting next to him.

“That is very hard to explain” the first officer told investigators. “That is our culture.”

Well, maybe, but such a mindset has no place in the cockpit of a commercial airliner, and such protocols are pretty much unheard of in the United States and most other countries.

Korean aviation is certainly safe, and I would never go so far as to recommend that passengers avoid Korean carriers outright. But it may not be as safe as it could be, and clearly the country needs to take a harder look at the way its pilots are trained.

The rest of what I discussed in the original Slate story holds true. For me, one of the most problematic aspects to the whole thing is the way in which the media seized on the incident, turning a comparatively small-scale crash in which only three people were killed into a days-long media circus. Granted it’s a tragedy when anybody is killed in a plane crash, but this sort of hyperbole is in many ways disrespectful to the hundreds of people who perished in far worse accidents — the kinds of accidents that we rarely see anymore — and it causes the public to lose all sense of scale and perspective when it comes to air safety.

Here’s a question: Imagine for a moment that the Asiana 777 had flipped over and exploded, and 250 people had been killed instead of three. How would the media coverage have differed? The disturbing answer, I fear, is that it wouldn’t have differed at all.


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144 Responses to “Asiana 777 Crashes in San Francisco”
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  1. Morons, the Founding Father knew just how evil government can and would become – and they ALWAYS wanted the citizens to have the right and power to defend themselves against the crocked evil bastards that are trying to enslave them and take away their rights.
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  2. Yomero says:

    Just recently NatGeo broacasted a 90 min “documentary” about the “Miracle in the Hudson” it got some accounts by the passengers. If what they told was close to how they reacted in a state of panic after an emergency landing/crash then the reactions of people in the Asiana flight aren’t so far-fetched. So you can take it in any of two ways: either a lot of people act in irrational & nonsensical ways when in a state of panic, or they over-embellish their accounts to the media.

  3. Colorado says:

    For me, one of the most problematic aspects to the whole thing is the way in which the media seized on the incident, turning a comparatively small-scale crash in which only three people were killed into a days-long media circus.

    I have to agree with this. As it turned out I flew into SFO 3 days later and stayed at the airport Marriott for 4 nights. The hotel has a direct view over the bay of the crash site, so during my stay all day, every day the hotel parking lot was taken over by news trucks from – I’m not exaggerating – 15 different TV stations. Each station would stake out a spot along the coast and have their news people interview people and in some cases even run their regular newscasts on site with the crashed plane in the background.

    There is no possible way that they had enough new information each day to justify a news update on the crash, let alone having a news team on-site each day. I had to wonder what important news stories were happening in that large metropolitan area that were being ignored while they fixated on this scene.

  4. Ronald says:

    Did they sort it out, too? I mean they all had their own carry-ons when they made it out…

    You know this… how?

    So, a plane crashed at SFO in 1953, how does that mean the modern day SFO is dangerous?

    Do you always fail at reading comprehension? You’re attacking a strawman while vigorously inferring that which was not implied.

  5. Henry says:

    Hey, Koreans, you need some help with the seniority system.

  6. ram says:

    Thinking of passport!!this was in 1999 oct on my LH flight from FRA to Chicago. I was the last one to board with my seats almost to the front. as usual all places are full and nowhere I can put my tiny hand-carry luggage. Attendant offered me to put my bag way back -all the way back or put my stuff beneath. I told him to put my bag beneath the plane. I was told that I can get it as soon as I land (before immigration) and i can carry while deplaning. I handed over the baggage and just in a pause, I realized my passport was inside. I took just passport alone from it. come Chicago. Come Chicago. I was told that my bag was missing and I can raise a compliant. …I would have seen immigration cell in Chicago airport otherwise. As on my way to Omaha, I have to write some nasty letters and then I got my bag 2 days later.

  7. MG says:

    Does this culture of hierarchy not exist in Japanese commercial aviation? Both my Korean and Japanese friends probably wouldn’t like me making the suggestion… but, from my limited Western view, the description sounds similar to other cultures in the region.

  8. Pillai says:

    Patrick, do you mean, only Korean flight training and operations are worrisome, or do all Asian/South Asian airlines fall into the same category? Because I can tell you, the same attitude mentioned by the Korean pilot exists in countries like India, even.

  9. Vinnie Prim says:

    Doesn’t SFO have VASI (Visual Approach Slope Indicator) red-green-red lights (too high, OK, too low)????

    • Jim Rish says:

      I’m pretty you mean “papi”. Certainly, KSFO has it, unless they claim it wasn’t working along with their 28L ILS/DME transmitter on 111.70 NAV frequency as well.

  10. PK says:

    I know I’m late to the party, but I’m reminded of my Ukrainian wife’s observation when the city of Pripyat was evacuated after the Chernobyl accident: People were told they could return to their homes and not to take their pets with them. They didn’t and several died locked up in the homes. My wife is furious about how they were lied to. If I have to leave my home during an emergency, and unless I’m carrying a baby or spouse, I’m taking my pet with me. Period.

    If I have a small sachel with my passport, I’m picking that up too unless something happens and I need to drop it for some reason while I’ll do so. A carryon roller bag, of course, is out of the question.

    • Rod says:

      For anti-theft purposes, I’ve always travelled with passport in a pouch in a forward pocket and cash divided into two pouches in pockets on different sides. Credit card in a third pouch. All are tethered or chained to belt loops.

      For the flight only, I stow the chains in checked luggage since they’d otherwise be confiscated as if they were made of plutonium or sumthin.

      That way all essential items are on my person, and kind of hard to steal too.

  11. Roger Wolff says:

    Patrick, about your addendum…..

    I am involved in “paragliding”. It is a “risk-sport”. On average somewhere between 1/1000 and 1/10000 of those involved in the sport get killed every year. When confronted with such a death, it is almost always pilot error and most of the remaining pilots think of reasons why THAT accident wouldn’t have happened to THEM.

    It is always like that. “They did something stupid, I’ll do everything right”.

    The same is happening here. US pilots and public WANT to think/hear that it won’t happen to them because they won’t make the same mistakes. In this case the “excuse” is easy: They are Asians, we’re not.

    Finding such an excuse means you can go on with your life without having to worry about the same thing happening to you.

    In the case at hand, if you want to have a preview of what I think happened with Asiana, you should read:
    (What I think is common in these incidents is that the pilots set the autothrottle for the speed they want to land at. They hear the engines spin down as they are supposed to. Next the autothrottle computer turns off for some reason. The cause was well researched in the schiphol case (faulty radio altimeter), but it apparently can happen from several causes. The autothrottle turning off causes some auditory warning and some flashing lights, which together do NOT always alert the pilots to what has happened. The result is that the plane ends up going too slow to fly and stalls.)

  12. Ma Zhenguo says:

    Agreed. But I have at least one more good reason to choose Easyjet etc. over Ryanair: basic customer service. I was once stranded in BGY due to a mechanical issue which made the plane unsafe to fly and they just left us there from 10pm to 3pm next day, sitting on the floor of a lego-sized airport with nothing except for vending machines (picture a bunch of screaming children…). Same mishap with Easyjet, they provided the same assistance as a major airline.

    As to Easyjet not being a low-cost airlines, I should tell mr O’Leary that flying e.g. Milan to Paris was never supposed to be a 10p deal, and 30 GBP / 35 EUR per leg is a fair price (especially because some of your money could actually be used to pay a nearly acceptable salary to those who fly the plane…). Moreover, most of the times it is an unfair comparison: Easyjet flies to places as Orly, which is a nothing commute to Paris, whereas Ryanair flies to remote outposts as Charleroi and Torp; the money you save on the ticket is spent on ground transportation, so I do not see much of a deal here.

  13. Rod says:

    I’ve never flown Ryanair, but then they don’t serve the place where I live. (I do use Easyjet at lot. But then Michael O’Leary sneers and laughs: “Easyjet isn’t a low-cost airline!”)

    The sky over Europe is absolutely filled with Ryanair flights. And these planes are not crashing. So one can only conclude that they’re safe, despite the often reckless pressures placed on staff.

    If I were to refuse to fly Ryanair it would be on the grounds that I refuse to give the bastards my business. But I would be a pretty lonely boycotter, wouldn’t I?

  14. Ma Zhenguo says:

    Meanwhile, the Italian press claims that the 43-hour pilot is a ‘trainee’. I suspect they do not know what a ‘trainee’ is in commercial aviation.

  15. Mengedegna says:

    You quite reasonably point to the nearly 12-year period in which there had been no fatalities among U.S. commercial carriers or among all commercial carriers operating in U.S.airspace, a truly remarkable record. But there is another record that I do not see mentioned anywhere and that seems to me also worthy of note here: the B777 has been flying since 1994, and this is its first fatal crash. I haven’t done the research to back this up, but it seems to me that this is a unique record among commercial jets. And even in this case, sad as the (now) four lives and the many injuries are, the big news was how most passengers got out of an awful crash safely. The 777 may not be the pleasantest aircraft to fly as a passenger, but, based on the evidence, it appears, even now, to be by far the safest.

    • Simon says:

      The A340 has never been involved in a fatal accident either. And it entered service in 1993.

      I think what we are seeing is a more general trend. Modern aviation has become increasingly safe despite far more air travel than ever before. Not to say we can put the topic to rest and become complacent, but it is good to remind ourselves just how far we have come thanks to engineering, training, skill, and dedication to professionalism. Something Patrick has often pointed out. In these times of short attention spans and sensationalist, often hysterical “news” reporting it’s nice to have experts keep reminding people of actual facts.

      • Rod says:

        Sure the 777 is a safe aircraft, as are all modern airliners. As for statistics and how they’re arrived at, the Concorde went from being the world’s safest to the world’s most dangerous airliner in the space of an afternoon.

        And had it not been for flight attendants doing their thing magnificently when the chips were down (Toronto 2005), the A340 would have plenty of fatalities to its record.

        Accident figures are bound to be like the weather: chaotic. But long-term trends don’t lie.

        • Simon says:

          You missed the point. The Toronto incident had nothing to do with the airframe. It was determined pilot error and weather.

          The actual point was that no matter if Triple-7 or A340, these modern airliners have become incredibly safe and reliable. And instead of silly religious battles over A vs. B, we’d rather hope both 787 and A350 fare just as well.

          • Rod says:

            Actually, that was precisely my point. How many airliner accidents in recent decades have been traced to an actual design fault? An ever-diminishing number. With the rarest of exceptions, today’s aircraft are all extremely safe — provided they’re well maintained and well crewed.
            Otherwise, an accident invariably requires an unlikely string of unfortunate coincidences or one enormous piece of reeeeally bad luck.

  16. Peter says:

    Thirty-three pretty dramatic photos of the wreckage here; hard to imagine being one of the passengers when you see what’s become of the interior:

  17. Stephen says:

    All I can say is wear a money belt and put your passport in it. Yes I know its not comfortable. Its saved me many times. Nothing worse than be in a foreign country and lose your passport.

  18. Peter says:

    Just saw this and thought people here might like to take a look. It’s a computer animation of the landing route Flight 214 should have taken superimposed over the route it actually did take. The animation was created by Jack Suchocki, a former Boeing 727 pilot who founded a company that does animated accident re-creations for legal investigations. Interesting stuff:

    • Rod says:

      Thanks Peter. Sort of the reverse of the Turkish 737 in Amsterdam, though the causes of the accidents are probably unrelated, except that in both cases the crews can’t have been much on the ball and in both cases there seems to have been confusion about autothrottles.

      As the editor of Flying Magazine has pointed out, it’s only dumb luck that the 777 didn’t flip over onto its back, in which case it would have been curtains for many MANY people.

      And referring to flight attendants who carried people away from the wreck, many of whom weighed more than they did, he wrote “Move over, Sully. There are some new heroes in town.”

  19. MS42 says:

    At Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, students are learning what to look for when investigating a crash.

    “Every change we (as an industry) put in an airplane is because we’ve learned something from a previous crash,” said Bill Waldock, Embry-Riddle professor of safety science and director of an accident investigation lab at the Prescott campus. “What happened (in San Francisco) reflects changes already made. If this was an older airplane or the plane crashed 20 years ago, I think half the people would have died. The seats are stronger, the fuselage is stronger. The structures around the fuel tank are reinforced.”

  20. Snowjob says:

    Patrick, I would be interested to know your thoughts on the “op-ed” posted on today:

    Although it’s perhaps unfair to paint all airlines from a specific country or region with the ‘cultural differences’ brush, the author of the piece does present some interesting observations.

    • Patrick says:

      Maybe I’ll take a look, but I don’t visit as much as I used to, after they banned all links to my articles. Nobody, not even third parties, are allowed to post any links to my work in the forums.

    • SBird says:

      Well, that was frightening. I’ve never flown on one of the Korean airlines, and let’s just say I’ll continue to choose my airlines very carefully.

  21. Lisa in Toronto says:

    Thank you for yet another excellent article!
    I too tried not to read news until you and James Fallows had provided your insights.
    After a 13 hour flight from PEK to YYZ on Monday, plus a 6 hour refuelling diversion to Ottawa due to the 126mm torrential rain in Toronto, I have really had it with people ignoring the seatbelt signs.
    I thought the San Francisco crash would have raised awareness and compliance but not at all.
    This scofflaw attitude had nothing to due with culture or nationality – about 95% of the plane seemed to be completely ignoring the seatbelt signs throughout taxiing in Ottawa and they certainly tried during takeoff and landings. Announcements were made in Mandarin throughout so no comprehension issues.
    I now vote for the Austrian Airlines method of locking the bathrooms when the seatbelt sign is on, although it seemed rather fascist when I was on the Austrian flight.
    How about fines for recalcitrant passengers as well?
    (My 70+ mother and my 48-year-old self had paid to be in the exit row. I was afraid we would be moved out due to concerns as to whether we could open the door. No one even talked to us about it … I realized I was practising in my mind throughout the flight. Maybe the crew assumed the large man beside me would handle it – but he was served approximately one alcoholic drink per hour so I wouldn’t trust his reflexes.)
    Really appreciate your voice of reason!

  22. Jeff says:

    Patrick, thanks for the great article.

    1. How often do pilots fly visual approaches on commercial aircraft? From listening to ATC here and there, it seems pretty common (at least in the US).
    2. How many commercial planes have aural (audible) low airspeed warnings? It seems the 777 doesn’t, though it’s been recommended.
    3. The NTSB has said that A/T were in the armed position – what else has to be set for them to work properly?
    4. It sounds like there were 3 pilots in the cockpit, and even though the PIC was training, he still had close to 10,000 hours flying, according to reports.
    5. How long would they have needed to execute the go-around properly?

    • Hey Skipper says:

      Jeff, in answer to your questions:

      1. At busy major airports, rarely. Aircraft the size of the 777 almost always land at major airports when it isn’t busy, which always means radar vectors to final.

      2. None, so far as I know. Most airliners still flying have a low speed protection mode that engages the autothrust system (ATS), regardless of what mode it is in, if the airplane approaches Vstall. While there are recommendations to add aural warnings, I don’t think they are necessary. If you have gotten the airplane to a point where it is self-engaging autothrust, then there are so many things wrong that it is extremely unlikely anyone will hear the audio. (Under high task situations, the audio channel is the first thing to go.)

      3. That fact says nothing about what mode the ATS is in. If the crew had selected level change, which clamps the engines in idle, the airplane would have been speed-on-pitch, which they might have selected prior to being cleared for the visual. If they rolled out on final steep and fast and hand flying, then the ATS would have been in an inappropriate mode, but that would have been obscured by being fast. As the flying pilot subsequently raised the nose, the speed would have bled off, but since the engines were idle clamped, they wouldn’t have responded until the airplane approached Vstall (about 20% below Vapproach).

      The fundamental problem here is that the aircrew failed to execute a missed approach when they did not have required stabilized approach parameters.

      4. The PF was upgrading to Captain in the 777. He had been a Capt in the A320. So he certainly had something like 10,000 hours. Unfortunately, it appears that his pilot skills, as well as everyone else on the flight deck, weren’t sufficient to handle an approach that should be a fundamental part of any pilot’s skill set. Blame advanced automation.

      5. In my airplane (MD11, nearly as large as the 777-300ER), at typical landing weights, it would take less than 10 seconds to convert a descent into a climb. Modern airliners are impressively overpowered when it comes to a missed approach. The only way they get to this accident is to completely fail to adhere to stabilized approach criteria, then continue to fail to monitor aircraft performance.

      The landing mantra is: Aimpoint-airspeed-aimpoint-airspeed-aimpoint-airspeed (repeat until touchdown). If you spend enough time relying on automation, that whole airspeed thing falls by the wayside.

      (Patrick: glad to see you on Slate.)

      (BTW, I fly the MD11, and have flown the B727, DC9, A320, and F111, among other aircraft.)

      • Patrick says:

        Thanks for this very good post, but I disagree with you somewhat on answer number 1.

        Visual approaches are fairly common at busy airports. There are different kinds of visual approaches, however, some of which are more choreographed than others, and just because you’re flying a visual doesn’t always mean you don’t have an ILS with a glide slope to tune into. You just don’t necessarily intercept that glide path (and/or the horizontal localizer path) at the same point you would during an assigned ILS approach. Asiana didn’t have an ILS to use because it was out of service.


        • Hey Skipper says:

          Re 1:If I had typed less quickly, and thought a little more thoroughly, I would have written what you did.

        • Vinnie Prim says:

          I assume those runways (like even in small local airports) have VASI (Visual Approach Slope Indicator) red-green-red lights (too high, OK, too low)????

      • Thomas says:

        Hope that you never lose respect for how much kinetic energy you’re dealing with, on landing, for 450,000 pounds at 155 kts…

  23. tettet says:

    Regarding Korean Air safety (no references to Asiana), here is more up-to-date information on their “standards.”

    1. None of the line crews I flew with understood what they were doing. At a recurrent ground school a local LCP admitted he had no clue either, and when I explained the correct procedures to he and two local FO’s told me that I did not understand the concept of all weather operations (I must have been wrong for the past 18 years). Recurrent tests and exams are always accompanied by a set of answers, so there is no attempt to improve knowledge or standards, just to make sure everyone passes and the operation continues. My radio licence test consisted of attending a classroom to watch the movie “Flightplan” (with Jodie Foster) and an 80’s movie about a couple of guys ferrying Pawnees across the Pacific. Attendance was mandatory. Bored out of my skull, I slept through the second movie. My Radio Licence turned up a few weeks later.

    2. Their knowledge of the aircraft is appalling and their idea of competence is to be able to quote procedures parrot fashion without understanding what they are doing, or even if it is appropriate to the situation. Everything is a competition and comes down to who is right, rather than what is right. My LIP (who had an extremely poor command of English) gave me bad grades because I followed SOP rather than follow his unsafe, non-standard, “time saving” techniques. When I queried this he threw my training folder at me and fed me a bullshit line about how the chief pilot told him he could do it the SOP way or his own way. He struggled on the radio on most of our training sectors and did not exhibit a single trait that would have made him an instructor in any other airline. Another expat pilot told me he had the same instructor when he joined and experienced similar problems.

    3. A friend of mine spent two years there on a 744 command contract. He mentioned there were some ‘testing’ moments. For example, when he emerged from the bunk on cessation of his scheduled rest to find he was alone on the flight deck! After that incident, he always took his rest in the seat.

    4. Crews refuse to de-ice their aircraft because they consider it macho to take off with an ice covered aeroplane. I have had debates with Korean captains on more than one occasion about the state of the aircraft, and have been challenged by ground engineers for recommending to the operating captain that we remove the ice and snow that was evident on the aircraft.

    5. I have operated flights where, for 10 hours, the Korean first officer refuses to speak to me because he doesn’t like foreigners. This is after I have introduced myself and done everything possible to be extremely polite and accommodating. I have spent almost 4 hours in the cockpit without any contact from the cabin. The cabin crew close all the window shades immediately after takeoff regardless of what time of day it is, so if the cockpit crew were asleep, dead or whatever and the aircraft was intercepted, nobody would know.

  24. nicholas robinson says:

    Well, now according to the SF Chronicle, the pilots were SO FOCUSED ON MAKING THE CENTER LINE that they failed to notice the auto-throttle had been disconnected and NO ONE WAS MONITORING THE AIRSPEED. Those stupid, idiotic bastards . . . just like the Everglades disaster when ALL FOUR CREW were worried sick about a landing gear lightbulb and FAILED TO NOTICE that their plane was descending into a swamp . . .

    Just another sad example of NO ONE FLYING THE PLANE. All four PAPI lights were red and they were so preoccupied with this that no one — this is so incredibly unbelievable that I can’t believe I’m writing this — NO ONE WAS MONITORING THEIR AIRSPEED. They “ASSUMED” it was being taken care of by the auto-throttle.

    So two people had to die and countless others had their lives changed because of a student-pilot mistake on one of the most advanced aircraft in the world.

    They should be hung out to dry in the worst possible manner and EVERY PILOT in their airline should have to go through CRM TEN TIMES IN A ROW before they’re allowed to get their hands on a plane again.


    • Peter says:

      Nicholas, I thought the ValuJet disaster was caused by an oxygen canister that had exploded and caused a fire that the cockpit crew couldn’t put out, and the smoke either killed or incapacitated the crew?

      • Rod says:

        Peter, Nicholas is not referring to the Valujet crash but to the Eastern Airlines Tristar crash in 1972, where the crew became so preoccupied with a relatively minor problem that they caused a hugely lethal one.
        As Dick Gregory would put it, they were worrying about dandruff when they had cancer of the eyeballs.

  25. David Kazmierski says:

    Hi, Patrick. I wonder whether you would clarify this from today’s NYT story:

    “A retired 777 captain, Chuck Hosmer, who flew for American Airlines and later Air India, said that many foreign carriers had a reluctance to land the plane manually, and thus lacked proficiency in the technique.”

    This would imply many foreign carriers perform automatic landings, or I guess, assisted landings? But how automatic/assisted? I’ve had the understanding from your columns that the great majority of takeoffs and landings are manual. Is this perhaps an inexact use of “manually” in the NYT piece? Thanks.

  26. JDW says:

    And, for the most idiotic comment from “the public,” I offer this gem from the Seattle Times website:

    Technology again. We always seem to misunderstand nature.

    “Hey, we’ll make a throttle that you can set once and forget about it. It will adjust itself and will free you up to do other things!”

    Never quite works out that way though does it? Certainly noy 100% of the time.

    Now Im really not a “techno-phobe” or ludite but I do detect a bit of a pattern here. Computers were once supposed to “give us all more free time” make thing simpler and more convenient but look at what happened – “social networking”, “texting/surfing while driving” and even new psychological disorders such as “online addiction.”

    I know I know, there is probably a net positive gained from advancing technology, after all, not everyone becomes an internet addict or fails to monitor whether the “auto-throttle” is actually working or not (and I personally don’t even try to go through the drive thru at McDonalds while my “cruise control” is still on.

    But still, when you stop and consider that once upon a time there were some “universally accepted” HUMAN DIRECTED procedures for landing ANY aeroplane (including maintaining proper air speed!) then you really have to admit that making things more “automatic” does occasionally have a dark side.

    I think when it comes to landing an airliner at a modern major airport in clear and calm weather I would still take a good, alert and experienced HUMAN pilot over “auto-throttle” any chance I could.

    Maybe thats just me…

    So, I guess Facebook caused the crash. Or vice-versa.

  27. Alexander says:

    “Lastly, we’re hearing murmurs already about the fact that Asiana Airlines hails from Korea, a country with a checkered past when it comes to air safety.”
    Where have we been hearing these murmurs? I’ve heard nothing of the sort– and I’ve been reading about this incident obsessively. Sounds like a straw man to me…

    • SBird says:

      Was that sarcasm? I couldn’t tell. There have been far more than murmurs! Asiana is definitely Korean, and Korean airlines have definitely had aircrew performance problems, and this has definitely been in the news since the crash.

      I generally have great respect for Patrick Smith’s expert opinions on all things airline, but I think he whitewashed this one. This crash was caused by human error, and I think I’m as well versed in human nature as anyone else. I will say definitively that those pilots seriously f’d up because they simply didn’t know how to operate their airplane very well. This one isn’t very complicated.

      Read this op-ed, posted farther down on this comments page:

      • Patrick says:

        It doesn’t SEEM to be complicated, but the most important thing in investigating airplane crashes is NOT to rush to judgment. I said in the piece — which, by the way, was written barely 24 hours after the crash — that it did not look good for the crew. I’m not “whitewashing,” I’m just being careful.


  28. Tony Nowikowski says:

    Patrick, I see you (and your book) got another nice shout-out from James Fallows at The Atlantic. He’s one of the few other people besides yourself that I trust for aviation-related commentary.
    (Here’s the link to his piece:

  29. Jeff Latten says:

    Hi, Cap. Yes, we have to wait for the official report before assessing blame, but is there any reason to believe the NTSB report will be any more accurate than the ‘official’ version of what happened to the Concorde years ago, vs. the real story as posted on your site?

  30. merhB says:

    LA Times Article:
    “It was then that flames erupted around row 10 on the right side of the plane, and she heard screams from a colleague asking her to save her life. A second slide had inflated inward near the flames, pinning a flight attendant’s leg.”

    –>> “I grabbed a knife passengers had eaten with from a cart and handed it to the co-pilot, and he punctured it,” Lee said. <<–

    Patrick – I guess they found your confiscated catering cutlery just in time to seriously save some lives (respectfully.)


    Thanks for addressing all this and keep up the good work.

  31. Thomas says:

    I would like Patrick to weigh-in here regarding the shortest time, before reaching the runway threshold, that he has executed a go-around — I’m betting it was nowhere near 7 seconds.

    If it was a thrust problem, the pilots’ actions are certainly excusable. Otherwise, to get below the glide-slope, significantly less than the Final Approach Speed, on an unstable approach, and not execute a go-around at 500 feet, seems to be gross-negligence on the part of the Senior Pilot.

  32. Jeff Weiler says:

    Very well-said, sir! I try to remember to reserve judgement for things I actually have experience doing, as you do for sure. As someone (myself) who has never flown a plane, been a first-responder, or even really been in an emergency (thank God!) – I really am not qualified to render an opinion (much less write a factual story) on any of these. Of course, I’ve also never been a journalist either – so I better be careful rendering judgement there too. That said, perhaps if we could all wait just a bit before broadcasting ‘facts,’ we would all be better off. All of that said, your point about the relative safety of flying these days is right on as well. Thanks for sharing your expert opinion, it is much needed!

  33. graham silliman says:

    Although hours in a 777 cockpit are probably not a key issue, I wonder if other logbook-type issues might have been a factor:

    1. These pilots spend almost all their time doing long-haul flying with 3-4 pilots on board. Even as they accumulate hours, they don’t get a lot of landings as pilot-in-command. United had a wake up call with this problem with a near-accident on takeoff from SFO in a 747-400, and I believe they actually built some shorter-haul widebody flying into their schedule partly to deal with that.

    2. Especially in countries with ab-initio flight crew hiring (not sure if this is the case with Asiana), pilots can have relatively less experience hand-flying planes, because they move to systems-supported large aircraft relatively early in their flying careers. That might hurt their situational awareness on a visual approach with one navigational system not operational.

  34. Bob says:

    Patrick, I heard your brief, interrupted comments on CNN, but you weren’t using the words “catastrophe” and “disaster” so you weren’t following their script. As a former journalist, I am curious whether any other network or publication tried to contact you, or is rationality completely verbotten?

  35. Peter says:

    Many thanks, Patrick, for your thoughts on the crash. I was hoping you would weigh in on it.

    This crash is of especially sharp interest to me, as I will be traveling on a Boeing 777 to France next month. (I’m really not nervous about it, despite my fascination with plane crashes.)

    I found it very interesting to read in this thread that passengers are required to remove their shoes in an evacuation. Although I always (I may be the only one) pay attention to the preflight instructions by the crew members, they have never included this information, perhaps because no one wants to alarm people by referring to a crash (“an unscheduled water landing” is about the closest most crews I’ve seen come to referring to such an event).

    As far as not taking my carry-on, hmm. I see both sides to this; most of what I would have with me would, in fact, be “just stuff,” as a commenter above pointed out, and easily replaceable. But some of it would be quite valuable (passport, cell phone) and expensive and difficult to replace. Personal safety is paramount, of course, but I would probably try to grab at least those things (if I had the presence of mind and were physically able and if the plane weren’t already on fire) and stuff them in my pockets before leaving. I admit I didn’t consider the possibility that a passenger clutching a carry-on as he or she descends an emergency chute presents a huge obstacle for those at the bottom of the chute. And I wasn’t aware that one slides very fast on the chute. (I hope I never have to experience it.)

    • Mary Askew says:

      Replacing a passport and a cellphone would cost at most $500. You can afford it if it means everyone gets off the plane quickly.

    • nicholas robinson says:

      I for one would hope that whenever they say “remove your shoes” they mean “remove any pointy, sharp shoes that might puncture the slide or poke someone’s eye out.”

      Because I certainly would not want to jump onto a pile of twisted metal shards with just socks on.

    • nicholas robinson says:

      I question the wisdom of placing all one’s valuables into a carry-on. Passports are slim and easily placed into a pocket, as are credit cards. I ALWAYS have all my cash, passport and credit cards on or about my immediate person. EVERYTHING in my carry-on is leave-behindable.

      There is no excuse for it. I don’t care if there’s not another soul on board, carrying out any item larger than a wallet is the height of irresponsibility and I don’t know why these things are not stressed in the pre-flight video/demos. All they have to say is “It is recommended to place passports and other small valuables such as cash and credit cards in shirt or coat pockets in the unlikely event of an emergency.” Takes two seconds to say, might save a life.

  36. Michael says:

    Thanks for the update.

    Fortunately, I have never been in the situation the passengers on Asiana 214 found themselves. I hope that my twenty-year fire fighter/paramedic career would have prevented me from taking my carry-on to the evac chute, but no one has ever suggested the idea in preflight safety briefings.

    Maybe the flight attendants could add that suggestion to the seat belt demonstration.

    • Christine says:

      I’ve seen it in those preprinted safety cards, but it’s not strongly emphasized, and the reason behind it is never explained. It seems obvious that you shouldn’t stop to pull something down from the overhead bins, but it never occurred to me that just grabbing your purse from under the seat might kill the person behind you. I’m not sure if some of the commenters here are being alarmist, or if the information needs to be given out more strongly.

    • Jim says:

      I fly mostly United and I can still hear “in the event of an emergency, leave all carry on items behind” from the safety video echoing in my head. Maybe other airlines don’t say this?

  37. starflyer says:

    Very good analysis, Patrick. I’m not a pilot but a long-time air traveler and have often thought about all that stuff in the overheads and what would happen to it in a crash situation. I’ve seen those overheads pop open during rollout and takeoff, so it would not be surprising to me if they blew their contents during that landing. From what I could tell of one of the videos posted on CNN, taken from a mile away, after striking the ground, the aircraft was spinning and nearly cartwheeled, so the physics of the situation could be pretty severe. That means people would have to kick or pick that stuff out of the way to get off the plane. SO, I am not as condemnatory as some posters here about that — there could have been very good reasons why some were carrying stuff.

    I’ve also flown into SFO many times and listened to ATC, and note that it is a difficult situation sometimes.

    It’s time to let the investigation take its course, as you point out, and the story will come out. The media coverage has been hyped, to say the least.

    thank you for lending a voice of reason to the ongoing debates.

  38. Linda Charnes says:

    Hi Patrick, thanks for your preliminary analysis. I’m a little disturbed at how so many comments are about the luggage issue, but people are entitled to their responses, and of course no one should be wheeling their carry-ons off of a crash.

    What I can’t get my head around is what another commenter said above: the pilot and co-pilot appear to have had a functioning airspeed indicator, a functioning altimeter, and presumably a functioning vertical speed indicator. All pilots (I’m a private pilot, GA) know on a visual approach to triangulate your gaze between the touchdown threshold, the ground, and the six-pack. Engine shouldn’t be completely on idle still out over water, IMO; but what I don’t get is why they sat there and let five seconds go by before adding in some power. It would’ve let them drop the nose a little and maybe, just maybe, they could have gotten over the seawall. They seem to just not have noticed either their airspeed indicator or their altimeter. What were they looking at, if not those things? the Golden Gate Bridge??

    • Linda Charnes says:

      From further reading I now understand PAPI was working. 4 red lights?? And all three pilots in the cockpit are worrying the center line? This is terrifying. That airspeed was the last thing on their mind until it was almost too late, and then they still waited another few seconds to execute a go round. If it takes 3 pilots to try to nail the center line, at the expense of airspeed and altitude, something’s seriously wrong with this crew. A missed approach should have been called earlier. Pilots often worry about “losing face” by calling a missed approach; but that’s a rookie mistake. They’re taught better safe than dead. There is no crash with dignity due to a missed approach.

  39. CaptAAinMike says:

    Generally well done. Do agree that Comair and Colgan should be included in your recap. Just one point: I’d say training often takes “months” not “weeks”.


    • Patrick says:

      I see what you mean, certainly (though you cannot accuse me of skimping on coverage when it comes to regional aircraft accidents — I wrote at least five columns on Salon analyzing the Comair and Colgan crashes).

      Perhaps, with the proliferation of regional jets, it’s time to find a better way of making my point, but I’ve found the “major carrier” asterisk a useful way of emphasizing the safety of commercial flying overall, major carriers being the traditional and standard metric when it comes to air safety.


  40. RaflW says:

    Oh, and I’d add to garhighway’s post just above that it’s not just final leg to small market. I fly frequently MSP to IAH or AUS, both are 1,000 mile segments to large cities (Austin greater metro is well over 1 million ppl now!).
    Most of the year Delta flies 76 seat regionals to both cities. I’m fine with flying them, but I think this emphasizes the point that regional codeshares are equivalent to major carriers in public perception and operationally.

  41. RaflW says:

    Thanks for the useful and calm info. But I have to second the question about no major airline fatal crash since 2001. Both the Comair crash in 2006 and the Colgan crash in 2009 were flights marketed by major airlines. You and I and most of the people here know about code-shares, regional airlines, etc, but I think the general public can and should expect their “major brand” carrier to market all their flights to the same standards of safety.
    I understand that both Colgan and Comair are/were Part 121 airlies, so should operate to the “same” safety standards. But there has been quite a bit of reporting pointing out that training, crew resource management, scheduling and corporate culture around safety are not the same at some regional as at the majors.
    As long as the majors are marketing & branding all their “connection” flights as part of their system, I think one has to count the ’06 and ’09 crashes as major airline crashes.

  42. garhighway says:

    Restricting the safety analysis to “major airlines” is deceptive and smacks of pro-industry propaganda. The whole structure of the domestic airline industry is to force you onto codeshare partners for final legs into smaller cities, the big boys should not be permitted to run away from that. The passenger notices the logo on the plane: Delta for Louisville and Continental for Buffalo, not the fine print that says Comair or Colgan.

    If it is to be otherwise, then the least the industry could do is warn us: “Hey, you are booking on a codeshare partner and we won’t count it if they kill you.”

    • Patrick says:

      I understand where you’re coming from — though you cannot accuse me of skimping on coverage when it comes to regional aircraft accidents; I wrote at least five columns on Salon analyzing the Comair and Colgan crashes.

      Perhaps, with the proliferation of regional jets, it’s time to find a better way of making my point, but I’ve found the “major carrier” asterisk a useful way of emphasizing the safety of commercial flying overall, major carriers being the traditional and standard metric when it comes to air safety.


  43. Eric Welch says:

    I appreciate your well-reasoned explanations and enjoyed your book “Cockpit Confidential” immensely. I have a technical question. Admittedly this may be based on some assumptions, but it would appear the plane was well below minimum speeds as it approached the runway and the stick-shaker went off. The pilot then applied go-around power which brought the tail down striking the seawall. This is obviously hindsight, but would he have been better to let the stall occur at that point since it looks like the gear were already over the threshold? The landing might have been really hard but the tail would not have been struck off. What is your opinion, given those assumptions.

  44. Geoff G. says:

    Great article, Patrick. I’ve made similar comments on other forums re carry-on bags, and I’ve been amazed at the retorts I’ve received:

    “It could have been insulin.”
    “I’ll make a judgement call as to if I have time to grab my bag. If there’s a line to evacuate, why not?”

  45. Very Main Street Media says:

    Our Distributed Denial of Service attack on this site should commence shortly. Common sense reporting of this sort will not be allowed!!

  46. Brian S. says:

    Catastrophe is relative. In the context of aircraft landings, this landing was very messy and culminated in a catastrophe. Could it have been worse? Sure, but that doesn’t mean this wasn’t a catastrophic landing.

  47. Best. Analysis. Ever.

    Thank you for your rational post.

    • Avery Greynold says:

      Consider the logic of this. If bags of spare blankets and pillows fall out of the overhead, then people evacuating are reasonable to carry them out “because they fell out of overhead bins”.

  48. Peter McIlroy says:

    So at least some of the people with carry-ons were carrying them because they fell out of overhead bins. Apparently this happened in first class and in the rear, where bags came crashing down in the aisles.

  49. Ted Davison says:

    Thanks Patrick. Like others above I have been waiting for your comments while reading MSM accounts.
    It seems the SOP for keeping oneself informed is now:

    1. Read MSM versions (a pomander isn’t essential here but it helps)
    2. Keep an eye on the most reliable blogs on the topic until…
    3. …measured and knowledgable views appear

    Journalists, with occasional noble exceptions, are ignorant sensationalists but they are not fools. It will be interesting to see how the ‘profession’ reacts to this threat.

  50. aileen says:

    At last, we hear from Patrick Smith! Other than the first reports that came in yesterday, I’ve been avoiding the news coverage until Patrick weighed in. In fact, I’ve been hoping (and have always hoped when there are “incidents”) that the networks would call you in as an aviation expert; why in tarnation wouldn’t they?

  51. kathryn says:


  52. nicholas robinson says:

    I have to say that at first glance (from very far away, with fuzzy binoculars) it looks bad for the crew. My immediate suspicion was ice in the fuel lines, like the BA crash landing about 5 years ago at Heathrow in a 777.

    But in that event, the FO commented quite early — certainly more than 7 seconds out — that he couldn’t “get any power” out of the engines. The pilot had to reduce flaps to get them over the antennae at the end of the runway — this must have all taken longer than 7 seconds.

    This crew *seems* not to have noticed anything of the sort — just suddenly become aware that they needed power six and a half seconds before declaring a go-around.

    Sounds mightily as if someone was asleep at the switch . . . but then again, I’m looking through very foggy binoculars from a long, long way away.

  53. Avery Greynold says:

    So everyone agrees that something should be done to stop people from taking their multiple bags with them during an evacuation. The effective rule would be that anything removed during an evacuation that occupies your hands or a hanging strap will be confiscated, inspected, then destroyed, without exception.
    This won’t happen till at least a couple dozen people die due to a slowed evacuation. Only death tolls and hindsight validates rulemaking (see: 9/11). Maybe next time.

  54. Bob Palmer says:

    Hi Patrick,

    Please reply to questions submitted by Dan R. (#10 above) and add this question:

    Why can’t we check everything except an attache-case-sized bag? I think about that every time I locate the nearest emergency exit, check my seat belt, etc. I don’t want to die from overhead luggage.


    Bob Palmer

  55. Paul Rako says:

    The title says: “A look at the 777 crash in San Francisco” but then the article gives a fluffy history of air safety and a criticism of the media coverage. I agree sensationalism is bad, but so is Chief Wiggum saying “Nothing to see here folks, just move along”. A pilot has flown an airliner into a seawall on the perfect summer day, in a plane functioning well enough that he had no comments about it on approach. I know it is hard to fly a jumbo jet. The cockpit is what– hang on — Well I can find no hard spec, but Boeing publication 777_2lr3er.pdf “777-200LR/-300ER/- Freighter Airplane Characteristics for Airport Planning” shows the cockpit to be about 20 feet above the runway. I can see it might be hard to judge height above water. Are they little waves really close or big waves really far away? But for now we have to believe the dang altimeter was working.

    Let’s do this thought experiment. Give the world’s 777 pilots nothing but stick and rudder. Disable the flaps, the trim tabs and every single instrument. Can they land the plane? I would guess not. But if you give them an airspeed indication I bet most of them could. And if you give them airspeed and elevation I would hope that all of them could. At least around noon on a pleasant summer day.

    And that leads to the next question. If the pilot had decided to commit suicide, (the only plausible explanation for his behavior), why didn’t the co-pilot relieve him of command and land the plane? For that, you do bring up a vital fact in the above article: “The airline was faulted for poor training standards and a rigid, authoritarian cockpit culture.” Well the temperance, gun, and abortion debates have shown us that cultures never die, they just wax and wane with the temper of the times. So what fascinates me is how the co-pilot sat there, reading what we have to assume were accurate instruments, and did nothing.

    • Jay says:

      So you’re mad that Patrick didn’t give you information he didn’t have, and make-up some hare-brained guess about what went on?

      If you need that, just turn on the news. (That was in the fluffy section)…

    • BunkT says:

      Patrick didn’t write “authoritarian”, he wrote “authoritative”. Nice to see you know the difference.

  56. corey b says:

    Thanks Patrick. I agree with you completely and I just wanted to write and thank you for your many years of commentary, because it is my familiarity with your columns that has educated me to the point where I feel like I can follow coverage of any crash/incident like this with the proper measure of skepticism and patience.

    The point you made that resonates the most with me, and it is also one that I have been underscoring to my friends throughout the coverage of this crash, is the fact that this should make us feel safer in flying. I completely concur. The 12-year stretch of perfection aside, the fact that almost 100% of the passengers and crew walked away (literally!) from the wreckage makes me feel extremely confident in the state of flight safety today.

    I owe it to you and… I can’t think of any other people in the media that deserve much praise when it comes to airline coverage (I am sure there are others, I just don’t know of any). You stand alone and I am grateful for your insight and your writing.

    – corey, Atlanta

    • crella says:

      Well said, I agree.

    • Pradeep says:

      I agree completely. I wish there were more independent experts in other specialized fields as well. I am tired of the media around the world only showing ‘experts’ who are willing jump to the most sensational conclusions.

  57. Dan R. says:

    Another question:

    Based on the NTSB statements thus far, there was a command for increased speed around 7 seconds before the accident followed by the stick shaker activating at 4 seconds and a go around command at 1.5 seconds. Would there not have been some type of aural “sink rate” or “glide slope” type message leading up to this? I know the flightaware log of the approach speeds and altitudes showed irregularities but I also know to take that with a huge grain of salt as it’s not as precise as what the NTSB will have.

  58. DV Henkel-Wallace says:

    First, Patrick, curse you for introducing rational thought and discussion into the circus.

    Two thoughts on the luggage and media circus:

    The one time I was in an emergency landing (flight attendants confiscated shoes, swapped me in the emergency exit row pulling out someone else whom they thought couldn’t do it etc) I was impressed at how compliant people were. No outrage, and nobody grabbed their luggage on the way out. But we knew we were making an emergency landing, which I presume these poor folks didn’t.

    I did disobey by putting my passport, green card, & a credit card in my pocket (this was pre mobile phone days) though we were supposed to keep them empty. Which means while the rest of the passengers stewed in an immigration holding area, I talked my way out of that holding pen, through immigration, was able to get back on the plane for my stuff, and then bug out (the ground crew seemed relieved that by leaving I would be one less passenger to worry about). To be greeted by a mob of reporters. And indeed, when my comment was, “No, the crew told us what to do and everybody is fine” they switched off the lights and waited for someone else to come out. Those jackals should all be barbecued.

    • human says:

      They confiscated shoes? Why would they do that?

      • Guy says:

        I read somewhere that the heels tend to catch on the emergency slide sending you for a tumble and possibly causing injury.

        • crella says:

          Shoes aren’t allowed on the slides. All the seat pocket cards say to take your shoes off when evacuating.

          • Pradeep says:

            Isn’t it time those things are designed to accommodate at least normal shoes? I can understand high heels but it would be stupid to expect passengers to get out without shoes. There is no guarantee on the surface outside the aircraft, the climate, how long the drop is and a whole lot of other parameters.

  59. Dan R. says:

    Hi Patrick,
    As always thank you for the informed and rational post. As soon as this happened I was yelling at the TV “Why isn’t anyone interviewing Patrick Smith!?!”.

    I do have a question regarding the carry on luggage: The reports that I’ve heard indicated that the overhead luggage compartments collapsed or at the very least scattered luggage throughout the aisle. I understand the danger and stupidity of jeopardizing others for your luggage but could this not have been an attempt to clear the aisles? In the heat of the moment could this not be an option with regards to clearing a path for an easier egress?

    Also out of my own curiosity: Several of the passengers suffered spinal injuries which may cause paralysis. How are passengers in these situations evacuated given the ideal need to isolate movement and safely get them off the plane.

    Thank you!

    • Josh P. says:

      Patrick was interviewed by CNN. However, the CNN anchor cut him off and clearly tried to structure his answers to be more sensational (Patrick didn’t take the bait).

      • Patrick says:

        I was supposed to be on CNN with Wolf Blitzer later on Saturday evening. They kept me on on hold for several minutes, then hung up on me just as the segment was about to air. They ran out of time, thanks to Wolf interviewing a passenger who had NO idea what he was talking about, and some guy at a San Francisco hospital reporting in with such riveting details as, “I just saw a woman in a wheelchair.” Wolf kept repeating the passenger count (“lets do the math again”), and other meaningless details, over and over, until finally it was the top of the hour and the line went dead.


        • Mark Richards says:

          “They kept me on on hold for several minutes, then hung up on me just as the segment was about to air.”

          Typically self-important media.

          Hope you charged them for your time.

        • Rocky says:

          But there was that whole block where Wolf (without any evidence) kept speculating about a whole lot of people being sucked out of the back of the plane. And he commented that they had covered the tail of the plane with cloth — which they didn’t. As far as I can tell, he was referring to the rear pressure bulkhead. I viewed it as a good sign that it was still there.

  60. Jocelyn says:

    I think there was an “approach” fatality at SFO in the 80s (?) — a plane scraped along the steel “pier” or line of fixtures that hold approach guidance lights – they extend into the bay at the start of the runway(s) 28L and 28R. IIRC, one passenger was impaled by some of that steel. The plane “sank” into the bay; even at high tide, I don’t think the waterline was above the windows.

    Thank you (SF local) Channel Five for The Stupidest reporting ever: Sully Sullenberger was interviewed by phone (about 4 hours after the crash.) As usual, he was well-spoken and his commentary guarded. He did say that a FACTOR COULD have been that the guidance indicator wasn’t available, but that was UNKNOWN “at this time,” and that in any case, it was a clear morning and that visual approaches are not uncommon. Not FIVE MINUTES LATER, the reporter “summarized” his interview “With Captain Sullenberger, ..who said that ‘there was no precision approach path indicator’.” I did yell at the TV set.

    Which is probably why Rob could say (above):
    “Meantime there are reports that there was no functioning “precision approach path indicator” for either of the two parallel runways. ”

    I didn’t know about the crash until three hours after it happened when I went to a neighbor’s house where the TV was on; the TV coverage was non-stop and was still going when I left three hours later….At least SIX hours of blathering about….whatever they could make up. I will say I didn’t hear anyone say “terrorist” until about Hour Five. It went something like, “…blah blah blah…terrorism. But there doesn’t seem to be any indication of a terrorist attack.”

  61. Peter McIlroy says:

    I don’t watch TV news. For print news, there are two witnesses who describe what happened very similarly; a third witness whose description differed (cartwheel, large fireball) has mostly been dropped.

    Also, there were a lot of critical injuries (15 critical; another 45 very serious). These could have easily been deaths, with a little less luck.

    Finally, there’s a difference between “carry-on item” and “personal item under the seat in front.” That bag often contains important documentation and medicine. Probably many passengers had them in their laps at the time of landing, after putting away their laptops or tablets. (I usually do.) The few photos I saw showed handbags and brief cases, not heavy carry-ons.

    • Silke says:

      The photo that David Eun twittered showed a woman with a heavy looking rollaboard AND a smaller bag in her hand.

  62. Jeff says:

    Jeremy, Comair (which is now out of business) was not owned by Delta. It was its own company with a codeshare agreement with Delta.

    • Jeremy says:

      Jeff, Comair’s wikipedia page claims Delta purchased Comair outright in 1999. But ok, even if it’s a completely separate operation from Delta, why is “major airline” not an arbitrary distinction? The handful (2?) of crashes on minor airlines since November 2001 hardly detract from Patrick’s point about the safety of air travel.

  63. Jeremy says:

    Can I ask why you are interested only in “major airline” crashes? I still read about the 2006 Lexington crash in the local papers here, which killed 49 people. What difference does it make that this flight was operated by Comair, an evidently minor airline, particularly given that (to my understanding), Comair is owned by Delta and that this plane had Delta markings.

    • Patrick says:

      As I responded to others who brought up this same issue….

      I understand where you’re coming from — though you cannot accuse me of skimping on coverage when it comes to regional aircraft accidents; I wrote at least five columns on Salon analyzing the Comair and Colgan crashes.

      Perhaps, with the proliferation of regional jets, it’s time to find a better way of making my point, but I’ve found the “major carrier” asterisk a useful way of emphasizing the safety of commercial flying overall, major carriers being the traditional and standard metric when it comes to air safety.

  64. KZachary says:

    Thanks for your observations. I was astonished to see the photo of people with their carry-on luggage. Do you suppose they had any irreplaceable objects in there? I doubt it. And it does seem that the flight crew was really on top of things to get everyone out.

  65. Rod says:

    CNN says that the aircraft was “flying too low” as it approached the runway threshold. Well thanks — that’s the insight of the year.

    Yes, the media are all over the map in speculation/hyperventilation, as Patrick says. It may be boring to wait for the report, but it’s the only way.

    Meantime there are reports that there was no functioning “precision approach path indicator” for either of the two parallel runways. If true, let’s say that this didn’t exactly help, whatever the circs.

    • Vinnie Prim says:

      No one ever mentioned it……didn’t those runways (like even the runways in small local airports for GA) have VASI (Visual Approach Slope Indicator) red-green-red lights (too high, OK, too low)????

  66. JamesP says:

    Thanks, Patrick.

    There’s so little official info immediately following an incident like this because frankly, *nobody knows* what the hell happened, and won’t for some time. I guess the media have to say *something* – thus the wild eyewitness accounts.

    At least we *will* know what really happened soon, since the investigators have a relatively intact airliner to work with.

    Speaking of whether SFO is “safe,” I could be wrong but it looks like the last fatal incident that took place at that airport was a DC-8 that crashed on approach in… 1953.

  67. Scottinnj says:

    Any death is a tragedy, but it does look like hats should be off to the crew for a successful evacuation for which there appears to have been no warning. Keep this in mind if you’re grumbling about your flight attendants on your next flight.

    • SBird says:

      Good point. They went from ordinary landing to full on emergency in less than five seconds, and yet the crew evacuated everyone successfully. (except the two girls who seem to have been ejected when the tail was torn off, they almost certainly died instantly)

      That’s really a pretty amazing performance. Even those who were seriously injured on impact were evacuated quickly. Those flight attendants would seem to deserve raises and promotions now.

  68. Silke says:

    Thanks, especially for the comment about the carry-ons. My first comment was that they should put HUGE fines on for such behavior, or better yet put them in a dungeon on Alcatraz to serve as an example on what not to do.

    • Roger says:

      While I don’t agree with the behaviour, I certainly understand it.

      People don’t react rationally when in shock and no amount of fines can change that. When SQ006 crashed there were reports of passengers frozen in their seats in a burning plane. This flight appeared to do a 360 which certainly isn’t normal. The flight attendants will be trying to get people off rapidly and without stuff, but they too have to make snap decisions when some passengers aren’t following instructions.

      The carryon is valuable (there was no charge for luggage). The carryons contain identity, money (or access to it), medicine and similar possessions. Before the flight and after, your mind set is all about protecting your valuables and never letting them out of your sight. US immigration isn’t known for being friendly to foreigners, so the identity information takes on a heightened importance. This means the brain has been in a mode of protecting and carrying the valuables for a long time, and hence understandable why that continues.

      And lastly there are the people reacting somewhat rationally. Nobody knows what happens in terms of getting reunited with your valuables in the event of a crash. Passengers can’t tell you if it is minutes, hours, days, months or ever. If it appears that you will get out okay then the split second decision to take your valuables will be made by some. (It costs $250 and 4 weeks for me to renew my passport – leaving it behind would be that expensive!)

      I think it would be really great if there were known standardised procedures for the “victims” of a crash, so that someone in such circumstances knows in advance how well they will be taken care of. In this case the airline didn’t update their web site or hours, and called it an “incident” on twitter. That doesn’t indicate being proactive or inspire confidence.

      Reassurance could include: all medical taken care of (again a US centric issue), immediate provision of spending money, personal chaperones to help with logistics (translators, clothing, transport, accomodation, cell phones), psychological support, embassy officials and rapid renewal of identity information, a rapid timeline for getting your possessions back etc

      I have no idea how much of that is normal practise, but knowing what is will certainly help when people are making rapid decisions under pressure.

      • Matt Hrvey says:

        What a load of crap.

        • Silke says:

          Thank you Matt. I hope that when I’m in a crash people aged of me decide to leave their passport behind instead of letting me burn to a crisp. It’s just stuff.

          • Silke says:

            Ahead of me, not aged.

          • Roger says:

            Did you even read my first sentence?

            Are you expecting perfect rational considered behaviour from people who are in shock, and hence resort to instinct and confused thinking? Are you expecting them to do the opposite of what they have been repeatedly been doing for hours or days in advance with focus, and which they know will continue to apply after they land? Are you expecting them to not be worried about the future? That is why I understand the behaviour, not why I condone it (which I don’t).

        • Col says:

          Thanks for that insightful comment Matt. Must have taken you hours to come up with that one. Looking forward to much more wonderfully constructed dialog from you.

          • Rod says:

            Yes, Matt’s appraisal is perhaps circumspect and subtle to a fault. Obviously Matt is at pains to carefully ponder all aspects and accord all points of view their due before making his assessment. But possibly he’s gone to just a trifle too much effort to be accommodating and diplomatic.
            (He’s also clearly a graduate of the Dale Carnegie School.)

      • Jim Houghton says:

        Everything you say is true, but what is really at work is priorities. People have such a limited sense of connectedness to other people they don’t know, their “need” to keep their passport or their diabetes pills can easily take precedence over another person’s right to go on living. All that rationalization about why people act like assholes is just so much hot air to the guy in the burn ward who could’ve made it out but for someone’s backpack he tripped over.

        • Roger says:

          Hopefully the NTSB report will cover the evacuation, and what passengers did. Those bags could have been ejected from the plane and being picked out from passengers clear of the evacuation slides, or in order to clear the area from the end of the slides.

          Some tweaks may be in order – for example I suspect that changing the cabin announcements/alarms (if they played) to include “fire” would encourage people to get out with less delay since our instinctual reaction to fire is more hurried. Reports seem to indicate that most of the fire happened after the evacuation so passengers may not have sensed the danger.

          I’d also expect that some the overheads etc burst open and the bags fell in the aisles. Some passengers may have grabbed them (nb: not necessarily their own) during evacuation, and carried them out because there was nowhere else to put them since the seats alongside would have had people in them also trying to get out.

      • Badri N. says:

        Spot on. For all the sanctimonious @$$holes who post otherwise, I’d like to see how YOU react if placed in this situation (and I pray you never have to find out).

        Easy to judge, after all, Monday morning quarterbacking IS America’s favorite pastime.

        Thank you Roger, for a well thought out, well articulated and clear position.

        • Exactly correct. I’ve wondered how I’d behave in a similar situation and can’t say I know. The point about passports and meds is spot on.

          Human nature is a funny thing, particularly the predilection for armchair criticism.

          • Roger Wolff says:

            For some people getting out without their medication might be just as bad as dying in the crash. Just slower….

          • Roger Wolff says:

            For some people getting out without their medication might be just as bad as dying in the crash. Just slower….

            After reading this discussion I’ve decided for myself to have my passport (and if relevant: medications) on my body (i.e. in my pockets) during the flight.

            (I keep my passport in a certain bag. It comes out for customs, and usually goes back into the bag somewhere during waiting for the plane or on the plane. Not anymore. After the flight!)

      • Bill K says:

        From the photos I have seen and from an interview in the New York Times from one of the passengers, it appears those carry luggage were from the first class cabin (the pods). In the interview the first class passenger says there was no panic, no crowding, easy access to the exit, and no instructions from the crew, so I suppose most of the first class passengers decided to grab their belongings.

      • Doc says:

        I am a flight paramedic. When I find you burned to death clutching your passport and the $400 Win7 laptop you purchased on sale at Best Buy for $200…

        I will make sure they get back to your wife, so you can be buried with them…

        The people on this Asiana Flight were incredibly lucky. Let’s not let it set an example.

        Getting your passport replaced is not that big a deal. My passport was stolen while I was in India a couple of years back. I went to the American Consulate, who called my parents, (I was 17 and supposed to be in Australia, so you can imagine how that conversation went.) They faxed a certified copy of my birth certificate. Three days later, I got a new passport. The consulate even offered to let me stay there until they were able to process the new passport.

        • Easy for an American in a civilised country, perhaps, when not trying to get through immigration control.

          One of my former colleagues (a fellow Brit, whose grandparents had come to the UK in the Windrush era) recounted having his British passport stolen in Hartsfield Jackson airport while air-side (after security). The police (probably border patrol) in the airport immediately detained him and put him in an immigration holding cell while they investigated.

          His passport was found, but the thief had torn it while trying to evade capture; because his passport was no longer valid, he was held in the immigration cell as an “illegal immigrant” while the British Embassy were contacted to come and produce a new passport and the appropriate bits of DHS were mobilized to reissue his green slip that confirmed he’d entered the US legally under the Visa Waiver Program. He ended up in the holding cell for over 24 hours while the embassy sorted out a new passport, and the DHS worked out how to reissue his visa waiver slip so that he no longer counted as an illegal immigrant and could go through security all over again.

          And note that this was not a case of “no passport”; this was a case of a passport stolen in the secure air side area, found (but damaged by the thief during capture). The police statement to the embassy included the fact that they had seen the passport in one piece before the thief tore pages out of it in front of them (believing that threatening to do so would result in the police backing down).

          If one deranged thief in an American airport can cause that much trouble for someone trying to *leave* the US, I can fully understand why someone trying to enter the US would worry about their passport.

          Note that the US could have chosen to release my colleague the moment his damaged passport was found, let him fly (he had time to make the plane at that point, and had already gone through US emigration formalities), and left him with the problem of getting back into his home country with a damaged passport; instead, they chose to treat him as an illegal immigrant until he had a new passport sorted.

        • Dave says:

          Every takeoff and landing I make sure my phone, wallet, and passport are in my POCKETS. No need to grab a carry-on when making a quick escape, and I am self-sufficient in the likely-chaotic post-crash environment. Shoes on too. I’m considering carrying a spare pare of glasses if I can find a secure place in my clothing. Getting my glasses damaged or lost in the emergency evac would negate the “self-sufficiency” thing.

    • Pierre Bierre says:

      How do you know people weren’t helping others by clearing luggage? Have you considered the on-air comments of the first passenger to speak publicly? He said (and hand-gestured) that the overhead bins collapsed onto the passengers and aisle. This factor would complicate rapid evacuation with luggage strewn haphazard all over the place. Common sense would be to clear the aisle first by any means. It would be instinctive to haul luggage to the hatches and heave it out, until enough seats were freed up to chuck the bags there. The FAs and passengers performed very well, and it is silly to 2nd guess them.

    • Nancy says:

      People on board reported that luggage fell out of the lockers on impact. Maybe it was better for people to take luggage rather than leaving it blocking the aisles or people getting out of the window seats?

      • Doc says:

        Did they sort it out, too? I mean they all had their own carry-ons when they made it out…

        I looovvveee my MacBook Pro, my two Nikon cameras, my iPhone and whatever writing I’ve done and carried with me.

        I’d pick up the luggage and throw it in the seats… None of the above is worth dying over…

      • John says:

        NO bags should be allowed on carry on. Small pouch or purse to carry passport, phone, meds, cell, money thats it. What passes today for a carry on is massive. Let everything else go in Cargo hold. Then one does not worry about bags falling ones head or collapsing the overheads.