Some more thoughts on Asiana 214…

Upfront I’ll say that I (obviously) don’t have any special insight, but just my reflections to share. I saw a mention of a 777 crashing at SFO in my Facebook feed as I was about to go to sleep in Taipei a couple of nights ago, which turned out to be literally less than five minutes after the incident occurred. Suffice to say I didn’t sleep a minute that night, and was glued to Twitter and TV (as painful as the coverage is to watch) till 7AM the next morning.

I’ve gotta say it’s amazing how quickly footage and the facts are unfolding, thanks in no small part to social media and that virtually everyone has a mobile picture/video studio thanks to smart phones. There’s now even a video of the crash landing which has surfaced, and frankly it’s even worse than I expected:

Incredibly disturbing to watch (perhaps only slightly less so than the cargo 747 that crashed in Afghanistan a couple of months ago), and at the same time it’s almost comforting and a testament to the safety of the industry that something like that could happen and almost everyone got out alive.

It’s also amazing how quickly the facts are unfolding. We already know that there were no mechanical failures and that seven seconds before impact one of the pilots made a call to increase speed, four seconds before impact the stick shaker sounded, and 1.5 seconds before impact the pilot called for a go around.

Anyway, my point with this post isn’t to report the news but to reflect. The accident hasn’t left my mind for a second. I’ve played out just about every scenario of “could you imagine what it would have been like to…” And that’s not limited to being a pilot, being a flight attendant, or being a passenger on Asiana 214. But I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to be the family of a passenger waiting for them at the airport, only to see the plane in flames. Or what it’s like to be an Asiana ground staff member that has to explain to passengers why the outbound flight is canceled. Or for that matter to be a passenger that was booked on the return flight to Incheon. Or to be a passenger on the United 747 that sat on the tarmac at the end of runway 28L for about two hours watching the whole situation unfold.

I could go on and on. There are so many people I feel horribly for, whether they were involved directly or not.

On one hand this really makes me reflect on our hobby as such, and how horribly things can go wrong. At the same time in the grand scheme of things I realize that I’m not spending all day reflecting about how horribly things are going in other parts of the world, like Egypt, where 30 people died in protests yesterday.

One of the only movies that’ll make me emotional is Hotel Rwanda, and there’s an exchange in there that I think sums it up well, to some degree:

Paul Rusesabagina: I am glad that you have shot this footage and that the world will see it. It is the only way we have a chance that people might intervene.

Jack: Yeah and if no one intervenes, is it still a good thing to show?

Paul Rusesabagina: How can they not intervene when they witness such atrocities?

Jack: I think if people see this footage they’ll say, “oh my God that’s horrible,” and then go on eating their dinners.

And while it sucks, it’s true. We’re impacted a lot more by what’s near and dear to our hearts than something potentially worse that we have little connection to.

Anyway, my thoughts are still with everyone involved and will be for a long time. I’m flying to San Francisco today and am dreading it — I’m not sure if I can stomach seeing my favorite aircraft burned to a crisp on the runway.

Filed Under: Asiana
  1. Ben,
    I’ve been a colleague, fan, and follower of yours for years, and this is one of the most mature, well reasoned things I’ve seen you write. Keep it up.

  2. Thoughtful post, Lucky. Safe travels to you today. Travel can make the events happening further afield more relevant, and it should do that. What we choose to do with those insights should inform both the way we travel and the way we live.

  3. Ben,
    David has said it so well. I couldn’t agree more! Safe travels to you today…I am sure,they will be

  4. I will sound like a racist, stupid, ignorant, but after this accident and previous air safety/accidents, personally I dont feel comfortable with Korean pilots. Sorry if I offend anyone, but that is how I feel.

  5. “At the same time in the grand scheme of things I realize that I’m not spending all day reflecting about how horribly things are going in other parts of the world, like Egypt, where 30 people died in protests yesterday.”

    Or the 4300 children who died yesterday from a preventable death due to unclean water.

    Thank you (honestly) for being mindful of those outside of our little bubble of western priveledge.

  6. Very heartfelt reflection – thanks for sharing your thoughts. After seeing the videos, it is truly amazing there were not more casuslties (although even one is one too many). Safe travels home.

  7. Well-said. I live in Millbrae – about 1.5 miles as the crow flies to the scene. i can see the runway and plane from my home. I’m flying from SFO-LHR tonight; I write this from the BA lounge. I know there’s a strong likelihood that we’ll taxi right by the wreckage as we head to our runway. My only thoughts will be awe that so many people got out alive, and sorrow for the 2 girls who died and many others severely injured.

  8. @Jorge
    That is racist but not because of how you feel. When you say you aren’t comfortable with Korean pilots and don’t elaborate, you make it sound like the only reason you aren’t comfortable is that they are Korean. Incredibly racist and very dumb to say the least. Now, if you had elaborated and said why you feel this way (maybe several previous flights where landings were touchy, personal experience that their english isn’t acceptable, etc.) you could actually bring up something that needs to be addressed or could add something to the discussion rather than make you seem like a racist.

  9. @Jorge
    I’ll take that back. Apparently you did give reasons and I was just reading too quickly while also watching the Wimbledon game. My apologies.

  10. Anecdotal evidence that social media is fleeting an not substantial for change in the long run (a la Rwanda). Two words. Kony 2012

  11. Ben, reminds me of the Pan Am 103 crash in 1988. I was in London that night, supposed to fly to Miami in the morning, and was glued all night to the TV in my hotel room, until 7 am when it was time to go to the airport. No news on board that morning, and total silence in the cabin during take off. There was clearly an uncomfortable feeling in the air.

  12. Good post.

    Although time will tell, and in reference to the earlier poster, I think there are / were worse airlines to fly than Asiana. Korea is a first world country with technology and infrastructure to match.

    Surely Asiana has comparable training standards.

  13. @MMWalk. Dont worry.

    But now I am furious at the airline. The captain had 43 hours on that plane class. ( 10 of those on this flight) WTF???? How did this happen, he should have been on the copilot seat until he understood this equipment well. Is that the norm in the industry? That is scary!

    In other sad news, it appears one of the deceased girls, was killed by a rescue truck. This is so cruel and unbelievable. But that is what the coroner says.

  14. Just saw the news that the pilot landing the plane had only 43 hours of experience in that plane. Looking at the video of the crash and reading the news of the lack of experience it seems the pilot screwed up. He probably thought he was in a flight simulator and forgot he was carrying more than 300 people in that plane. Fly Asiana? Tks but NO tks!!!!!!

  15. Good post. It’s a terrible tragedy, and I’m sure we’ll all remain glued to our TVs/computers for the details — but you’re right, we tend to forget that there are plenty of horrible things that occur every day, and if we were paralyzed by all of them we would be in a constant state of sadness and mourning.

  16. Jorge & Santastico: What I’m guessing happened was that the other pilots onboard were thinking, “Hey, it’s perfect visibility, conditions are calm; maybe give the guy a try at this.” And though he barely had any flight experience with the 777, he HAS been flying for Asiana for 17 years.

    Another question is this: what was the CO-PILOT doing? Why didn’t he notice anything wrong?

  17. Hope this isn’t too personal, but does it bring back memories of your Royal Jordanian fiasco? Does it put it in a different context?

  18. While the cockpit culture in Korea certainly gives me pause, let’s not forget that 3 French pilots needlessly crashed a perfectly good airplane in the Atlantic, 2 Colgan pilots crashed a perfectly good airplane into Buffalo, the AA crash in the Andes that was totally pilot error, McDonnell Douglas knowingly not fixing a cargo door that killed hundreds outside of Paris, Alaska’s poor (criminal?) maintenance culture that caused a plane crash off the California coast, Valujet, U.S. Scare back in the day, the list unfortunately goes on.

  19. Thanks for sharing. I also kept thinking about the tragedy today, wondering how quickly one’s life can be changed in the blink of an eye. Glad that so many survived, really sad for the two girls who didn’t. Have a safe trip home.

  20. So, will award space on Asiana open up? And will anybody here be willing to be on it?

    They say the safest time to fly is after an accident but I’m not sure I’d be able to enjoy the nice seat if I’m worried about dying.

  21. @ mwwalk — I do think this will impact their loads short term, especially among non-Korean passengers. I’d fly on them in a heartbeat, though.

  22. @ David — Yes, very much brought back thoughts of it immediately. Not sure it put a different perspective on it, but it was the first thing that I thought about.

  23. I don’t find this at all like the 747 that crashed a few months ago in Afghanistan. I know it was only a handful of souls one board, but it was a much more violent and graphic crash. I’m sure this was horrible for those on board, but for me viewing from afar not even comparable.

    I’d fly OZ or KE in a heartbeat. Way more reliable than US airlines in my opinion, especially on the ground where maintenance is an issue. Just my opinion, no evidence of this.

    Lastly, 43 hours on this type, but 10,000 hours flying is a ton of time, and most of that is on wide-body aircraft according to what I read. Any pilots want to comment on the difference from one type to another on landing?

  24. 55 people died yesterday of firearm yesterday alone; that’s 53 more than the total deaths worldwide due to commercial aviation.

    Reflect on that and enjoy your flight to SFO!

  25. First officer had only 40 some hours on 777, the Captain had over 3,000 hours on 777. Just clarifying.

  26. For those concerned about the pilot’s 43 hours of experience in a 777, please note that US-based airlines follow similar practices for experienced pilots who fly aircraft that are new to them. Such pilots undergo many hours of training in a simulator, and their very first flight on a “real” plane is a revenue flight. See post #5479 in this FT thread (currently it’s near the very end of the thread):

    Presumably Asiana also required many hours of simulator experience for the pilot in question.

    Lucky, is it really the case that mechanical failure has been unequivocally ruled out? Is there no possible equipment of sensor failure that could explain why the pilot was coming in so slow and low?

  27. @hillrider- Did you include the unfortunate 10 people who died in the air taxi crash in Alaska?

  28. Have there been any reports so far from the United 747 sitting on the runway as to what they saw/heard?

  29. hi lucky,
    i’m going to book the longyearbyen for next summer. can you (or anyone reading this who has been there) tell me how many days we’ll need there. 3? more?

    thanks for the info. place sounds incredible!

  30. I was in Longyearben to start an expedition cruise. The town itself is nothing much, just a bunch of sporting goods stores. You need to book some type of outdoor adventure trip and you can’t go out of town alone because there are polar bears which could kill you. You have to be with a guard with a rifle who keeps on the lookout for bears.

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