Thinking About Asiana 214 Crash At SFO 36-ish Hours Later

I’m writing part of this Sunday evening and plan to post it early Monday morning as I’ll be tied up most of the day.  So, it’s possible there’s a huge revelation about Asiana 214.  However, this post is probably going to end up a lot more random than that.  While I’ve been a travel enthusiast for as long as I can recall, I haven’t been an aviation enthusiast for quite as long.  Even though I had an awareness of airplane crashes back in the 90s I wasn’t as situationally aware of them as I was of Asiana 214.  That’s probably due to the fact that I travel now for a living and didn’t back then.

There are a few things about this crash that seem to make it more noticeable, more impactful if you will, even though the loss of life is less so than other crashes in recent memory.  Colgan Air Flight 3407 saw 50 people lose their lives when that flight crashed on approach to Buffalo in 2009.  That was a Bombardier Q-400, a very reliable prop plane.

Air France flight 447 crashed in the ocean on the way from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.  That was a A330 that saw the loss of 228 people.

I remember reading plenty of stories about both of these crashes, but I also look for such things due to the amount of time I spend on airlines nowadays.  In the few short days since the crash of Asiana 214, people who normally don’t talk about airplanes or travel to me at all have brought it up, asking questions or offering information they heard.  It seems like others around me are much more aware of Asiana 214 then of previous crashes.

First, I wanted to take another moment to recognize the tragic loss of life here.  The numbers may be far less than previous crashes, but two families won’t be seeing their girls again.  One of my biggest fears of having children was the potential inability to protect them from danger.  I can’t imagine the feelings going through these parents’ minds.

I was reminded of something I don’t commonly practice on airplanes when I travel.  As a general rule, it’s a good idea to have your shoes on and some form of identification (passport if you’re traveling internationally) on your person in case there is a need to evacuate the plane in an emergency.  This doesn’t happen often but it’s a good practice, one I don’t practice enough.

I think this crash was more visible for a few reasons.  Social media was definitely prevalent in 2009 but it’s also more ubiquitous now.

It was also at one of the largest and busiest airports in the world, which means it impacted a much wider swath of people than just those associated with Asiana 214.  The airport was closed for quite some time causing numerous diversions and delays for arrivals and departures.

The images of this crash were captivating.  A plane laying on the ground, smoke billowing, on all the major channels I tuned into on Saturday.  I saw all the same images yesterday and I’m sure I’ll see them again today.

CNN has a good synopsis of what we know and don’t know so far.

The Wall Street Journal has a piece that indicates officials are thinking pilot error early on in the investigation.  After spending quite a few hours watching and reading coverage I lean that way, too.  I don’t have the professional experience to determine such things, but this doesn’t appear to be a normal landing procedure by any standard.  And, while it’s unclear what the exact path of the aircraft was upon landing (or things like verified airspeed, etc) I think it seems to lean considerably towards some sort of pilot error.

I think the Boeing 777 (the type of plane that crashed) is a very well constructed plane.  I’m biased, but I think Boeing builds a great airplane in many ways and I’d rather be on of their planes if something were to go wrong on one of my flights.  For a plane to be able to withstand this kind of damage, with the entire tail section coming unattached and still see the lion’s share of people walk away from the crash is pretty incredible.

I also think that the crew played a big role in the number of fatalities being so small.  To evacuate that many people quickly before fire spread is a sign that the crew jumped into their emergency procedures quickly to evacuate all the passengers as safely as possible given tough conditions in that half of the doors and evacuation slides appeared inoperable.  There are some stories floating out about brave crew members carrying passengers to safety.  Based on early information, the crew should be commended for getting everyone off as quickly as they did.

That’s a great reminder for knowing how you’re going to get off an airplane.  I generally don’t pay attention to safety briefings when I get onto planes as closely as the airlines probably want me to.  But, I also fly hundreds of flights a year.  I also always take note of the type of plane I’m flying and where the closest exit doors are.  That’s just good common sense.

This video, if real, is chilling footage of the plane almost flipping over while it skidded to a stop.

I’m always thankful when I get somewhere safely on a plane.  Air travel is a very safe method of travel when compared to other mediums. Planes are well constructed, pilots and crew well trained.  But, we’re still challenging the elements and gravity to race across the world to far away destinations, and it’s good to put that properly in perspective.  2 people lost their lives on Saturday doing something that seems normal and mundane to most people nowadays, flying somewhere.

50 years ago, the majority of Americans hadn’t been on planes yet.  Millions of people hop safely on planes every day in today’s world.  They’ll do that tomorrow without thinking much of Asiana 214, the crash fading into our collective memories as another tragedy in a world with more tragedies than we can count.

I’ll still be thankful each time I touch down safely, just like I’m thankful every time I get home to hug my wife and kids.  I’ll still challenge gravity on my race to see the world and I hope you will to.

Just make sure that seat belt is fastened low and tight across your waist.  You never know when it’ll come in handy.

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1 Comment

  1. You may be the only person suggesting that CNN has good coverage of the story.

    Sadly, I think that the biggest take-away I’ll have from this event is just how bad our “news” outlets are in covering real news. I’ve been incredibly impressed with the NTSB Director and her ability to keep a level head and a direct, fact-based approach when faced with some of the moronic questions our media have thrown at her.

    There are a number of aviation-specific resources which have been much more reliable and much less speculative than the major outlets. NYCAviation.com, Airchive.com and AirlineReporter.com are three of the best out there IMO.

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