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THE CRASH OF ASIANA FLIGHT 214
By Joe Brancatelli
The airline industry calls it a "survivable crash." But the landing of Asiana Flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport was still a crash in the true sense of the word. It's true that 305 of the 307 people on board survived. But dozens were injured, some seriously. And two people, Chinese teenagers as it happened, are dead. To the dead and the injured, a "survivable crash" isn't nearly so simple as the airline industry would make it seem. Here is how we've covered things. Like a blog, a Pinter play or an episode of Seinfeld, read backward since the latest item is on top.
7/8/13, 9AM ET, MONDAY
ASIANA 214 PILOT WAS A 'TRAINEE'
Asiana Airlines executives now confirm that the pilot landing the Boeing 777-200ER that crash landed at San Francisco International on Saturday was officially a "trainee." He had logged just 43 hours operating a 777. It was also his first time landing a Boeing 777 at SFO.
However, that "trainee" term is misleading. The pilot, Lee Gang Guk (the anglicized version of the name will vary depending on where you read), had at least 9,000 hours of flight experience. Many of those hours were on Boeing 747 aircraft. Asiana officials said the 46-year old Lee has landed planes at SFO at least 29 times. He was also under the guidance of a "check airman," a senior pilot in charge of the training and acting as co-pilot. The 49-year-old check airman on the flight, Lee Jeong Min, had about 3,200 hours experience in a Boeing 777.
7/7/13, 5PM ET, SUNDAY
NO TROUBLE UNTIL 7 SECONDS BEFORE LANDING
A quick update on the Asiana crash and conditions at San Francisco International.
First, at SFO: The airport's third runway, 28R, the one parallel to where the Asiana Flight 214 crash landing occurred, has reopened. That means San Francisco has three of its four runways open. Delays are running up to three hours on some flights. It's been a tough day so far at SFO. FlightStats.com reports that there have already been about 350 take-off and landing delays and about 250 cancellations. There have also been some diversions.
Several carriers, including United, American and Virgin America, have issued travel waivers. If you are scheduled to fly into or out of SFO in the next day or two, check with your carrier about flight or schedule changes.
Now, more details about Asiana Flight 214. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, which has reviewed both the cockpit-voice recorder and the flight-data recorder, there were no irregularities with the landing until about seven seconds before impact. That is when the pilot called for more speed. About four seconds before impact, a "stick shaker" warning--it is both a verbal and visual alert--of an impending stall was activated. About 1.5 seconds before impact, the flight deck requested a "go-around," meaning they wanted to abort the landing and try again. According to the flight-data recorder, the plane was coming in "significantly below" recommended approach speed. The NTSB says it does not yet know whether the pilots were attempting a manual or automated landing.
As you surely know by now, two passengers died in the crash. Their bodies were apparently found outside the aircraft. About 50 passengers remain hospitalized and in serious condition. The plane carried a total of 307 people, 291 passengers and a crew of 16.
The Asiana crash is the first fatal incident involving the Boeing 777 series aircraft. The most serious incident with a Boeing 777 before yesterday's crash was British Airways Flight 38 in January, 2008. It landed short of a London/Heathrow runway and 47 were injured. A note: A Continental Airlines pilot operating a Boeing 777 died of a heart attack in 2009 while operating a flight from Brussels to Newark. That aircraft landed without incident, however. The 777 that crash landed yesterday was delivered to Asiana in the first quarter of 2006.
7/6/13, 7:30PM ET, SATURDAY
SFO REOPENS, TWO DEAD IN CRASH LANDING
Two of San Francisco's four runways have now reopened. Flights are landing and taking off again, but expect long delays in the hours ahead. According to FlightStats.com, there are now more than 170 delays and nearly 150 cancellations at SFO.
According to the airline, Asiana Flight 214 originated in Shanghai and continued to Seoul/Incheon before taking off for San Francisco. The manifest listed 291 passengers and 16 crew members. According to San Francisco officials, there are 2 dead, 48 transported to area hospitals and 190 more people who evacuated the plane. About 80 of those 190 were walking wounded and may be headed to hospital. Many of those initially hospitalized are in critical condition, according to spokespeople for the hospitals.
Unfortunately, that leaves at least 60 people unaccounted for at this time. Please keep in mind these numbers, although official, should not be considered definitive. They are, in the parlance, "fluid."
As for the crash landing itself, early indications are that the pilot undershot the runway. There is a clearly visible debris trail from the seawall in front of SFO Runway 28L to the spot where the aircraft, a Boeing 777-200ER, came to a halt. Keep in mind, however, that an "undershot" is a symptom, not the cause. There's no explanation yet as to why the plane missed the runway. It is also clear that a fire broke out after the plane came to a stop, which is what caused the gaping hole at the top of the fuselage.
All three cable-news networks continue in wall-to-wall coverage and probably will stay on the story until it becomes too dark in San Francisco to show pictures. And another reminder: There continues to be wild speculation on TV about what actually happened here. Some speculation is from putative experts who warn against speculation before they lay out their own speculation.
7/6/13, 5:15PM ET, SATURDAY
SFO CLOSED...OR FLIGHTS 'SUSPENDED'
The Federal Aviation Administration reports that San Francisco International Airport is closed as of 4:10pm Eastern Time. SFO's Twitter feed says flights are "suspended." Practically, that means any flights en route to SFO have been diverted. Domestic flights are probably being sent to Oakland, San Jose or Sacramento. International arriving flights are probably being diverted to Los Angeles, where there is sufficient space and customs and immigration facilities. Scheduled outbound flights from SFO are delayed and some (perhaps many) may be cancelled in the next hours.
As for the crash itself, some media reports suggest there were 291 people on the plane. Asiana flies at least five in-flight configurations of the Boeing 777-200 and 200ER, some carrying as many as 305 passengers. There are no reports of fatalities or injuries yet. However, a Tweeted picture shows passengers moving with haste from the aircraft after leaving via an emergency slide. So we know there are a substantial number of survivors.
One other quick point: The early reports (and eyewitnesses) said the plane "cartwheeled" on landing. A vertical cartwheel that flipped the plane end-over-end is virtually impossible since the aircraft's wings seem to be attached to or in very close proximity to the fuselage. More likely, the eyewitnesses may have seen the plane spin around after landing.
All three cable-news networks are now in wall-to-wall coverage, which means a lot of talking-head "experts" desperately trying to fill time and cluttering the facts with baseless speculation and not-quite-relevant background.
7/6/13, 3:45PM ET, SATURDAY
A CRASH LANDING AT SFO
An Asiana Airlines Boeing 777-200ER has apparently crashed on landing at San Francisco International Airport.
We have no accurate details yet, although all three cable-news networks are in live coverage with overhead pictures. From what they are showing, the aircraft seems to have lost its tail assembly. Pieces of the tail are strewn on the runway. A huge chunk of the top of the passenger cabin is missing and seems to have been burned away. Evacuation slides do seem to have been deployed. We have no idea on potential casualties or injuries.
At this time, the Asiana Web site (http://us.flyasiana.com/Global/US/en/index) currently has no information. The Twitter feed (https://twitter.com/AsianaAirlines) is similarly dark.
The Web site for San Francisco International (http://flysfo.com/) is currently offline and its Twitter feed (https://twitter.com/flySFO) offers no information. Needless to say, however, there are now arrival and departure delays at SFO. Check with your airline if you're scheduled to use SFO later today.
The flight appears to be Asiana Flight 214, which departed Seoul/Incheon at 5:04pm Korean Standard Time today. It was scheduled to arrive at 11:28am San Francisco time.
A warning: No matter the pedigree of the commentator you are listening to on TV, they are GUESSING. And first guesses in aircraft accidents are almost invariably wrong.
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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.