Asiana crash insights

Hi guys,

As some of you know, I'm an airline pilot and a military pilot in the USAF Reserves, and thus have lots of friends in the industry who beam information back and forth all the time. I also happen to live in the San Francisco area.

I was home and had the news on all day long when the 777 crashed at SFO, and it was all I could do to prevent myself from smashing my TV set. Fox News in particular was staffed with blithering idiots, who pestered their hired experts with questions that were beyond inane.

I spent a year stationed in Korea, and (from a distance) got to see how they operate, so I had my own opinion that this was probably a pilot error accident. That opinion, as it turns out, was vindicated by the preliminary data that showed that the pilots got as low as 34 knots below approach speed! :shocked:

By coincidence, one of my best friends was in the cockpit of the 747 that was waiting to take off, so he had an excellent viewpoint of most of the tragedy. His comments are below. Following that are some comments from somebody I do *not* know, so I can't personally vouch for their veracity. However, my experience would lead me to believe that he is 100% truthful in his analysis.

As an aside, when I was based in Korea my commanding officer came very close to being a casualty of a KAL crash because the crew was paralyzed and couldn't make a decision. The crosswinds were out of limits at Seoul and forecast to remain so for 12+ hours. That should be an easy decision--divert and land somewhere else (Kunsan was their alternate, about 35 minutes south). However, the captain elected to try to land at his destination anyway. He was almost to the runway with the winds well out of limits when he aborted the approach, and flew down to Kunsan. He was almost touching down when he changed his mind and decided to go back to Seoul. He flew another approach at Seoul, went around again, declared a fuel emergency and landed at Kunsan with less than 10 minutes of fuel in the tanks.

Herewith, the two reports I have to share:

From my friend Doc:

We were holding just short at the end of RWY 28L perpendicular turn on Taxiway F at SFO, facing East. The first time I saw the 777 was when one of the pilots said "Holy shit, look at this guy". All eyes were outside watching...

On July 6, 2013 at approximately 1827Z I was the 747-400 relief F/O on flt 885, IDxxx/06 SFO-KIX. I was a witness to the Asiana Flt 214 accident. We had taxied to hold short of runway 28L at SFO on taxiway F, and were waiting to rectify a HAZMAT cargo issue as well as our final weights before we could run our before takeoff checklist and depart. As we waited on taxiway F heading East, just prior to the perpendicular holding area, all three pilots took notice of the Asiana 777 on short final. I noticed the aircraft looked low on glidepath and had a very high deck angle compared to what seemed “normal”. I then noticed at the apparent descent rate and closure to the runway environment the aircraft looked as though it was going to impact the approach lights mounted on piers in the SF Bay. The aircraft made a fairly drastic looking pull up in the last few feet and it appeared and sounded as if they had applied maximum thrust. However the descent path they were on continued and the thrust applied didn't appear to come soon enough to prevent impact. The tail cone and empennage of the 777 impacted the bulkhead seawall and departed the airplane and the main landing gear sheared off instantly. This created a long debris field along the arrival end of 28L, mostly along the right side of 28L. We saw the fuselage, largely intact, slide down the runway and out of view of our cockpit. We heard much confusion and quick instructions from SFO Tower and a few moments later heard an aircraft go around over the runway 28 complex. We realized within a few moments that we were apparently unharmed so I got on the PA and instructed everyone to remain seated and that we were safe.

We all acknowledged if we had been located between Runways 28R and 28L on taxiway F we would have likely suffered damage to the right side aft section of our aircraft from the 777. A 747-400 is 231' LOA and 213' wingspan. Our tail would have been precariously close to the incident area had we held there.

Approximately two minutes later I was looking out the left side cockpit windows and noticed movement on the right side of Runway 28L. Two survivors were stumbling but moving abeam the Runway “28L” marking on the North side of the runway. I saw one survivor stand up, walk a few feet, then appear to squat down. The other appeared to be a woman and was walking, then fell off to her side and remained on the ground until rescue personnel arrived. The First Officer in the right seat was on the radio and I told him to tell tower what I had seen, but I ended up taking the microphone instead of relaying through him. I told SFO tower that there appeared to be survivors on the right side of the runway and they needed to send assistance immediately. It seemed to take a very long time for vehicles and assistance to arrive for these victims. I believe the first vehicle on scene was a pickup truck, possibly an airport maintenance vehicle. The survivors I saw were approximately 1000-1500' away from the fuselage and had apparently been ejected from the aft part of the fuselage. I departed the cockpit for the cabin, so I don't recall when the paramedics or other members of CFR arrived.

We made numerous PAs to the passengers telling them any information we had, which we acknowledged was going to change rapidly, and I left the cockpit to check on the flight attendants and the overall mood of the passengers, as I was the third pilot and not in a control seat. A couple of our flight attendants were shaken up but ALL were doing an outstanding and extremely professional job of handling the passenger's needs and providing calm comfort to them. One of the flight attendants contacted unaccompanied minors' parents to ensure them their children were safe and would be taken care of by our crew. Their demeanor and professionalism during this horrific event was noteworthy. I went to each cabin and spoke to the passengers asking if everyone was OK and if they needed any assistance, and gave them information personally, to include telling them what I saw from the cockpit. I also provided encouragement that we would be OK, we'd tell them everything we learn and to please relax and be patient and expect this is going to be a long wait. The passenger mood was concerned but generally calm. A few individuals were emotional as nearly every passenger on the left side of the aircraft saw the fuselage and debris field going over 100 knots past our aircraft only 300' away. By this point everyone had looked out the windows and could see the smoke plume from the 777. A number of passengers also noticed what I had seen with the survivors out near the end of 28L expressing concern that the rescue effort appeared slow for those individuals that had been separated from the airplane wreckage near the numbers on the runway.

We ultimately had a tug come out and tow us back to the gate just short of 3 hours after the incident, doing a 3 point turn in the hold short area of 28L. We could not taxi across runway 28L at any point because of the extensive debris all the way from the seawall to just beyond the 10,000 foot remaining marker. We were towed along Taxiway F, where we stopped briefly while some CFR vehicles were moved and now had a very good look at the fuselage. You've already seen the photos but we were all surprised and relieved that the fuselage was intact for the most part and slides had been deployed. The fire was out at this point, which we assume was why they were finally able to tow us back, We also noted that the right engine had seemed to depart the aircraft and was pressed against the right fuselage, and the left engine had also departed and was in the grass on the opposite side of the runway 300-400' away, having apparently burned. By the time we arrived at the area near the fuselage there were no passenger survivors present, only CFR and law enforcement as far as I could tell. Once the taxiway was clear we were tugged to gate 101 where the passengers deplaned. Captain XX from the SFO flight office met us at the aircraft and gave us any information he had and asked if we needed any assistance or hotel rooms for the evening. Captain XX and F/O XX went to hotels and I went to my home an hour away in the East Bay.


And now, the second piece, which I can't verify personally, where an unknown guy writes:

After I retired from UAL as a Standards Captain on the -400, I got a job as a simulator instructor working for Alteon (a Boeing subsidiary) at Asiana. When I first got there, I was shocked and surprised by the lack of basic piloting skills shown by most of the pilots. It is not a normal situation with normal progression from new hire, right seat, left seat taking a decade or two. One big difference is that ex-Military pilots are given super-seniority and progress to the left seat much faster. Compared to the US, they also upgrade fairly rapidly because of the phenomenal growth by all Asian air carriers. By the way, after about six months at Asiana, I was moved over to KAL and found them to be identical. The only difference was the color of the uniforms and airplanes. I worked in Korea for 5 long years and although I found most of the people to be very pleasant, it's a minefield of a work environment ... for them and for us expats.

One of the first things I learned was that the pilots kept a web-site and reported on every training session. I don't think this was officially sanctioned by the company, but after one or two simulator periods, a database was building on me (and everyone else) that told them exactly how I ran the sessions, what to expect on checks, and what to look out for. For example; I used to open an aft cargo door at 100 knots to get them to initiate an RTO and I would brief them on it during the briefing. This was on the B-737 NG and many of the captains were coming off the 777 or B744 and they were used to the Master Caution System being inhibited at 80 kts. Well, for the first few days after I started that, EVERYONE rejected the takeoff. Then, all of a sudden they all "got it" and continued the takeoff (in accordance with their manuals). The word had gotten out. I figured it was an overall PLUS for the training program.

We expat instructors were forced upon them after the amount of fatal accidents (most of the them totally avoidable) over a decade began to be noticed by the outside world. They were basically given an ultimatum by the FAA, Transport Canada, and the EU to totally rebuild and rethink their training program or face being banned from the skies all over the world. They hired Boeing and Airbus to staff the training centers. KAL has one center and Asiana has another. When I was there (2003-2008) we had about 60 expats conducting training KAL and about 40 at Asiana. Most instructors were from the USA, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand with a few stuffed in from Europe and Asia. Boeing also operated training centers in Singapore and China so they did hire some instructors from there.

This solution has only been partially successful but still faces ingrained resistance from the Koreans. I lost track of the number of highly qualified instructors I worked with who were fired because they tried to enforce "normal" standards of performance. By normal standards, I would include being able to master basic tasks like successfully shoot a visual approach with 10 kt crosswind and the weather CAVOK. I am not kidding when I tell you that requiring them to shoot a visual approach struck fear in their hearts ... with good reason. Like this Asiana crew, it didnt' compute that you needed to be a 1000' AGL at 3 miles and your sink rate should be 600-800 Ft/Min. But, after 5 years, they finally nailed me. I still had to sign my name to their training and sometimes if I just couldn't pass someone on a check, I had no choice but to fail them. I usually busted about 3-5 crews a year and the resistance against me built. I finally failed an extremely incompetent crew and it turned out he was the a high-ranking captain who was the Chief Line Check pilot on the fleet I was teaching on. I found out on my next monthly trip home that KAL was not going to renew my Visa. The crew I failed was given another check and continued a fly while talking about how unfair Captain Brown was.

Any of you Boeing glass-cockpit guys will know what I mean when I describe these events. I gave them a VOR approach with an 15 mile arc from the IAF. By the way, KAL dictated the profiles for all sessions and we just administered them. He requested two turns in holding at the IAF to get set up for the approach. When he finally got his nerve up, he requested "Radar Vectors" to final. He could have just said he was ready for the approach and I would have cleared him to the IAF and then "Cleared for the approach" and he could have selected "Exit Hold" and been on his way. He was already in LNAV/VNAV PATH. So, I gave him vectors to final with a 30 degree intercept. Of course, he failed to "Extend the FAF" and he couldn't understand why it would not intercept the LNAV magenta line when he punched LNAV and VNAV. He made three approaches and missed approaches before he figured out that his active waypoint was "Hold at XYZ." Every time he punched LNAV, it would try to go back to the IAF ... just like it was supposed to do. Since it was a check, I was not allowed (by their own rules) to offer him any help. That was just one of about half dozen major errors I documented in his UNSAT paperwork. He also failed to put in ANY aileron on takeoff with a 30-knot direct crosswind (again, the weather was dictated by KAL).

This Asiana SFO accident makes me sick and while I am surprised there are not more, I expect that there will be many more of the same type accidents in the future unless some drastic steps are taken. They are already required to hire a certain percentage of expats to try to ingrain more flying expertise in them, but more likely, they will eventually be fired too. One of the best trainees I ever had was a Korean/American (he grew up and went to school in the USA) who flew C-141's in the USAF. When he got out, he moved back to Korea and got hired by KAL. I met him when I gave him some training and a check on the B-737 and of course, he breezed through the training. I give him annual PCs for a few years and he was always a good pilot. Then, he got involved with trying to start a pilots union and when they tired to enforce some sort of duty rigs on international flights, he was fired after being arrested and JAILED!

The Koreans are very very bright and smart so I was puzzled by their inability to fly an airplane well. They would show up on Day 1 of training (an hour before the scheduled briefing time, in a 3-piece suit, and shined shoes) with the entire contents of the FCOM and Flight Manual totally memorized. But, putting that information to actual use was many times impossible. Crosswind landings are also an unsolvable puzzle for most of them. I never did figure it out completely, but I think I did uncover a few clues. Here is my best guess. First off, their educational system emphasizes ROTE memorization from the first day of school as little kids. As you know, that is the lowest form of learning and they act like robots. They are also taught to NEVER challenge authority and in spite of the flight training heavily emphasizing CRM/CLR, it still exists either on the surface or very subtly. You just can't change 3000 years of culture.

The other thing that I think plays an important role is the fact that there is virtually NO civil aircraft flying in Korea. It's actually illegal to own a Cessna-152 and just go learn to fly. Ultra-lights and Powered Hang Gliders are Ok. I guess they don't trust the people to not start WW III by flying 35 miles north of Inchon into North Korea. But, they don't get the kids who grew up flying (and thinking for themselves) and hanging around airports. They do recruit some kids from college and send then to the US or Australia and get them their tickets. Generally, I had better experience with them than with the ex-Military pilots. This was a surprise to me as I spent years as a Naval Aviator flying fighters after getting my private in light airplanes. I would get experienced F-4, F-5, F-15, and F-16 pilots who were actually terrible pilots if they had to hand fly the airplane. What a shock!

Finally, I'll get off my box and talk about the total flight hours they claim. I do accept that there are a few talented and free-thinking pilots that I met and trained in Korea. Some are still in contact and I consider them friends. They were a joy! But, they were few and far between and certainly not the norm.

Actually, this is a worldwide problem involving automation and the auto-flight concept. Take one of these new first officers that got his ratings in the US or Australia and came to KAL or Asiana with 225 flight hours. After takeoff, in accordance with their SOP, he calls for the autopilot to be engaged at 250' after takeoff. How much actual flight time is that? Hardly one minute. Then he might fly for hours on the autopilot and finally disengage it (MAYBE?) below 800' after the gear was down, flaps extended and on airspeed (autothrottle). Then he might bring it in to land. Again, how much real "flight time" or real experience did he get. Minutes! Of course, on the 777 or 747, it's the same only they get more inflated logbooks.

So, when I hear that a 10,000 hour Korean captain was vectored in for a 17-mile final and cleared for a visual approach in CAVOK weather, it raises the hair on the back of my neck.


It's interesting to note that the middle eastern carriers seem to have come to terms with the clash between their cultures and the needs of a professional airline, and have staffed their airlines primarily with European and American pilots (same thing goes for their hospital emergency rooms, their major construction projects, etc. etc.) and that has proven to be (mostly) a very workable solution.

Jim Craik

Lifetime Supporter

Years ago I read a very interesting book, called "OUTLIERS" by Malcolm Gladwell.

This book looked into several interesting areas, where things appear to be outside the normal, expected boundries, including things like: "Why are most professional hockey players born in January & February"?

Another chapter: Of the 75 richest people in history, going back all the way to Cleopatra, 14 were Americans, born between 1831 and 1840?

Why were the leaders of the present-day computer age all born born within three years of each other almost six decades ago?

One of the chapters was: "Why do Korean Airliners Crash"?

As I recall it had to do with a certain "class structure" where for various reasons, the Captain was in a position where other crew members were reluctant to question or point out errors. After all, the Captain might lose "face". They gave several examples where the crew, seeing a problem, sat silently as the Captain proceeded to crash the Aircraft.

As I recall, this was a very interesting read, I'll have to check my library and see if I still have this one.
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Randy V

Staff member
Lifetime Supporter
Holy cats Mike!!!

This was a terrible thing to happen and we certainly appreciate your perspective on the whole affair.. The notes from the second part simply made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.. Mind you I'm a pilot as well, but only a private pilot - not commercial.

Years ago I read a very interesting book, called "OUTLIERS" by Malcolm Gladwell.

Another chapter: Why were seventy-five percent of the richest people in history, going back all the way to Cleopatra all Americans, born between 1831 and 1840?


The section comes from Chapter 2, immediately after a list of the seventy-five richest people in history.

Do you know what's interesting about that list? Of the 75 names, an astonishing 14 are Americans born within nine years of each other in the mid 19th century. Think about that for a moment. Historians start with Cleopatra and the Pharaohs and comb through every year in human history ever since, looking in every corner of the world for evidence of extraordinary wealth, and almost 20 percent of the names they end up with come from a single generation in a single country.

Here's the list:

01. John Rockefeller, 1839.
02. Andrew Carnegie, 1835.
28.Frederick Weyerhaeuser, 1834.
33. Jay Gould, 1836.
34. Marshall Field, 1834.
35. George Baker, 1840.
36. Hetty Green, 1834.
44. James G. Fair, 1831.
54. Henry H. Rogers, 1840.
57. J.P. Morgan, 1837.
58. Oliver Payne, 1839.
62. George Pullman, 1831.
64. Peter Widener, 1834.
65. Philip Armor, 1832.

Not that the above still isn't interesting Jim, but we must check what we put out there, as fiction quickly becomes accepted as fact in the era of the www


Jim Craik

Lifetime Supporter
Mark, you are right and I have corrected my post.

As memory can be faulty, I need to re-check my posts for accuracy, before I hit enter.
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I found this fascinating too....

A Global Ex-vessel Fish Price Database: Construction
and Applications
Sea Around Us Project and Fisheries Economics Research Unit, Fisheries Centre,
University of British Columbia, 2202 Main Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4,
Canada ([email protected])
Sea Around Us Project and Fisheries Economics Research Unit, Fisheries Centre,
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
([email protected])
Sea Around Us Project, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia,
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada ([email protected])
Sea Around Us Project, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver,
British Columbia, Canada ([email protected])
Synopsis: We describe the first effort at creating a global ex-vessel fish price database, which is required
for understanding the economic behavior of participants in the world’s fisheries. We demonstrate potential
applications of the database by linking it to a spatially defined catch database, which makes it possible
to attach landed values to species in both time and space. This is the first database available publicly
where interested members of the public, researchers and managers can easily find and access ex-vessel
prices of the world’s major commercial fish species. Preliminary results indicate that the average real
price of a number of species have declined between 1950 and 2002. The estimated landed value of fish
globally, in year 2000 dollars, was about US$24 billion in 1950. It increased steadily to about US$90
billion in the early 1970s, reached a peak of US$100 billion at the end of the 1980s, and declined to
about US$80 billion in 2000. The top 15 fishing countries cumulatively account for 79% of total real
landed value, with Japan leading, even though the value of its landings has been declining.
Key words: landed values, catches, spatial mapping and temporal applications
JEL classification: Q22, Q28

Who would have thought?

There's a lot more and if anyone is interested of course I'll post the other 300 pages.


Mike, thanks for the heads up. Are the two runway 'casualties' seen by another pilot the two teenage Chinese girls who have been declared dead? If so, this is perspective is awful beyond words...and very upsetting, to me anyway :(

Howard Jones

Never fly Korean Airline......... Check..........

Since I know nothing obout the airline industry other than NEVER by airline stocks (another whole story, just don't). I was thinking about the Chinese. Seems a lot like Korea in that I bet there are not a lot of privately owned airplanes, and an aversion to questioning authority.

I might be wrong about the Chinese......if so let me know. Don't bother with flying Korean airlines, my mind is made up on that one.
I have made several (long) international flights on Korean Airlines and each and every
landing seemed to be more than a bit rough. 747's and 777's. One approach into Shanghai was actually frightening. That was the last time for me! The weather was good and it seemed like when we hit the outer markers, the aircraft was all over the place with many, many altitude and airspeed adjustments. Seemed unusual (it was a 777).
I have made several (long) international flights on Korean Airlines and each and every
landing seemed to be more than a bit rough. 747's and 777's. One approach into Shanghai was actually frightening. That was the last time for me! The weather was good and it seemed like when we hit the outer markers, the aircraft was all over the place with many, many altitude and airspeed adjustments. Seemed unusual (it was a 777).

That was when the autopilot was turned off, and the pilots who don't know how to fly were then responsible for getting it the last 200 feet or so down to the ground. :uneasy:

Now, to be fair, there could have been gusty winds etc. which you can't perceive from the cabin, but which make a smooth landing not only challenging, but not particularly desirable. I have had my fair share of aircraft carrier-style landings, many of them (but not all certainly!) deliberate.

Chinese airlines often hire Americans and Europeans, and in fact, will hire them straight into the left seat, bypassing seniority. I suspect it's both because they can gain well-trained and experienced pilots without having to grow them themselves, and also in an effort to infuse the airline with a western thinking mindset. It appears to be more successful than the Korean carriers who (apparently?) are very nationalistic with respect to their cockpit crews?



One of the chapters was: "Why do Korean Airliners Crash"?

As I recall it had to do with a certain "class structure" where for various reasons, the Captain was in a position where other crew members were reluctant to question or point out errors. After all, the Captain might lose "face". They gave several examples where the crew, seeing a problem, sat silently as the Captain proceeded to crash the Aircraft.

As I recall, this was a very interesting read, I'll have to check my library and see if I still have this one.

I reckon Muslim pilots must be the same...

David Morton

Lifetime Supporter
As an aside, a few years back in Kenya, the local airline made a big deal of marching the locally hired flight crew from the back door all the way to the forward pantry as though they were the operating flight deck. The insurers stipulated they were not allowed into the flight deck and a hired crew from Britain took it from there. On arrival the charade was replayed in reverse amidst loud clapping and cheering from the talking freight -oops-sorry -passengers.
Back to this one some confusion this morning about a cabin address saying "Do not evacuate" and some 90 or so seconds elapsed before the Evacuation started. Some really lucky people.
Asiana has released the names of the flight crew:

Capt. Sum Ting Wong
Capt. Wi Tu Lo
F.O. Ho Lee Fuk
F.O. Bang Ding Ow