Sunday, July 7, 2013

Asiana 214, and why I wear Hawaiian shirts when I fly

The details surrounding the crash of Asiana 214, a Boeing 777-200ER en route from Seoul Incheon to San Francisco yesterday are still trickling in and likely will be for a long, long time. The NTSB is performing their investigation and both the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder (a/k/a the "Black Boxes") have been recovered and are en route for analysis. There are two confirmed fatalities of the more than 300 passengers and crew on board which is, in many ways, incredible that the number is so low. Obviously subject to change as things develop but it seems that rather than being a horrible tragedy this even will end up as another instance where things could have been much, much worse.

While many things about the incident strike me as absolutely amazing there are a few which I think are worth highlighting.

  • The pilots of the flight were still in communication with ATC after coming to a stop. They had both the presence of mind to call for help and the systems were still functional. That’s pretty impressive.
  • More impressive than that, however, was the controller working the tower for ATC at the time. He was calm (at least as much as one can be in such a situation) and was able to both handle the planes on final approach – I count a handful of "go arounds" issued including new flight paths and handing them off to other controllers – and also stay in contact with the pilot of OZ214 to let him know that emergency crews were en route. The 2.5 minutes of audio is an incredible listen (mirrored from when their server was getting slammed yesterday). If you ever need a reminder that everyone involved in the air travel world truly is a professional moments like this put it in to stark clarity.
  • The ability to evacuate 300 people off a plane in less than 2 minutes is incredible. From the pictures I can see it appears the plane spun skidded to the left upon landing, doing a near 180 before coming to rest between 28L and the adjacent taxiway. After seeing the latest video it appears the plane did a “flat spin” pivoting on the left wingtip doing a near 360 degree rotation with the right wingtip elevating ~45 degrees at one point following impact. It is not clear why the left wing dipped and caught the earth causing the spin.
  • At least one engine detached and it appears to have blocked exit 2R when the plane finally came to rest. Slides were deployed from 1L and 2L. Doors are open at 3L, 3R, 4L and 4R with no slides visible. I’m not sure if a slide deployed at 1R or not. The back of the plane was very close to the ground so my guess is the FAs purposefully disengaged the slides as they would have impaired the exit process, but I don’t really know for sure. We’ll learn details there eventually.
  • The ability for idiots to pass themselves off as experts is incredible. The "news" reporting of this incident was stunning in its incompetence. It is a shame, really, as there are a lot of very good and important stories to be told. Alas, we’re stuck talking about "landing strips" and having reporters ask the NTSB team how old the plane is, among other idiocy.
  • The part where a troll or two took to twitter and started sharing as though they were part of the events was similarly awful. Whether hashtag hijacking to try to get more followers with unrelated content or, in the case of one account, actually pretending they were a customer while sharing picture lifted from other accounts or even other planes, it is disgusting. There are a lot of sick people out there.

And then there’s my reference to Hawaiian shirts in the thread title. Yes, I know they’re a questionable fashion choice and yet I am almost always wearing one when flying. Events like this are one reason why. One of the things I love about flying is that there is so much consistency in the experience, even across different airlines. Part of that consistency, for me, comes from having my passport and ticket in my shirt pocket and my shoes on at takeoff and landing. And, in addition to being comfortable, the pocket on those shirts is generally larger than on my other button-down shirts so it holds my passport comfortably. I don’t expect to ever need to take advantage of that preparedness, but I do it anyways.

There is still a lot to learn about the events at SFO yesterday. But I’ve got a ticket booked on Asiana for later this year and I have absolutely no intentions of changing my plans.

I purposefully didn’t include any photos in this post, mostly because they aren’t mine but also because they could be a bit disturbing with the burnt out fuselage. A few twitter posts worth looking at with some pictures in them include:

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