Sunday, July 07, 2013

Asiana Flight 214 crashes at SFO

On the American west coast, at around 11:30AM PDT on Saturday morning, an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777, Flight 214 inbound from Seoul, crashed at San Francisco International Airport. While reports are still inaccurate even several hours after the disaster, best estimates indicate 307 passengers and crew, and at least two deaths. Theories as to why the crash happened seem to be focusing on either gross pilot error or catastrophic mechanical/structural failure. In the first case, there is a chance the plane's approach was too low, causing the plane's tail to brush the ground, thus ripping the tail off and causing the crash. In the second case, the tail simply dropped off the plane during the last moments of final approach, and/or something happened to the engines, which caused the pilots to try to bring the plane's nose up. Aside from the two known deaths, everyone else seems to have survived with injuries ranging from minor to serious; many passengers apparently simply walked away from the crash site, and even went on to pass through US Customs.

If the problem turns out to be mechanical/structural, I imagine a lot of focus will be placed on how well Asiana maintains its fleet of airliners. If the problem turns out to have been pilot error, I can guarantee that very specific heads will be rolling—starting with the captain's.

Watch the news feeds for updates. On a selfish and somewhat illogical note: while I won't be flying Asiana to Korea in August (I'll be on United), this crash means that all airlines will be thoroughly rechecking their planes, which promises an even safer ride for all of us heading out in a month. Obviously, there are no guarantees in life (just ask the passengers of Flight 214), but it's nice to think that whatever plane I board will have been given a super-scrupulous once-over—to protect the airline's good name, if nothing else.

UPDATE: The Washington Post tweets some stats:

307 people on Flight 214:

1 unaccounted for
49 seriously injured
132 taken to hospital
123 uninjured

UPDATE 2: I've added a photo of the crash, which occurred on Runway 28-Left. The dark grey-green band at the very top of the image is the San Francisco Bay. As you see, a drag-mark is visible at the very edge of the runway (up is southeast, by the way; lower left is north; the plane's nose is facing north), which clearly shows that the plane was so low that it clipped the runway on final approach. But why? Pilot error? Instrument malfunction? Structural failure? I really don't expect there to be any clear answers for at least a week, so like Anakin Skywalker in "Revenge of the Sith," I counsel patience. The answers will come. Meanwhile, I feel bad for the good folks at Asiana—ticket-counter employees and others—who are now going to get a ton of flak thanks to this PR disaster—a disaster that will only get worse if the problem turns out to have anything to do with pilot error. (Scuttlebutt suggests that the pilots didn't radio in with any problems while on approach. This, too, can be interpreted in different ways: either they were incompetently oblivious to any problems, or the problems were so hidden, and appeared so suddenly, that there was little time to do much of anything.)

NB: An anonymous commenter wrote in with a correction (San-Fran Bay, not Pacific Ocean, as I'd noted earlier). I deleted the comment, however, because the commenter failed to follow commenting policy. S/he should have provided a name—a screen name, at least. No anonymous comments are allowed, as is clearly written above the comments text window. So: minus 1 point to Kevin for mislabeling a body of water; minus 1 point to my commenter for not reading my comments policy very carefully.

UPDATE 3: According to my Twitter feed, pilot error is now the focus of the investigation. At the same time, here's an article noting that SFO's "Glide Path" guidance system was turned off while OZ214 was landing. According to that latter article, this isn't as scandalous as it sounds: in clear weather, Glide Path is often turned off; it's used mainly during inclement weather. All the same, the absence of Glide Path will be evaluated, in this case, for its role in the crash.


No comments: