Sunday, April 20, 2014
By PATRICK SMITH Slate Magazine
(Continued from page 2)
A screen showing a news program reporting about Asiana Airlines flight 214 which took off from Seoul and crashed while landing at San Francisco International Airport as employees of Asiana Airlines work at Crisis Management Center of Asiana Airlines head office in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, July 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, Pool)
Meanwhile, looking at some of the footage from Saturday, I was appalled by the number of passengers who chose to evacuate the burning aircraft with their carry-on luggage. We've seen this in several on-the-runway evacuations in recent years. I understand that reaching for one's valuables is human nature, and that people don't always behave rationally in a crisis, but lugging your carry-ons down the aisle in the middle of an emergency evacuation, when seconds can mean the difference between life and death, is reckless. You're endangering your own life and the lives of those people behind you. And those escape slides are much higher and steeper than it appears on television. They are not designed with convenience in mind. They are there to get a planeload of people out of, and away from, the aircraft as quickly as possible — without their belongings. When you slide, you slide very fast, and jumping into a slide with your belongings places physical obstacles directly in the path of others. Although cabin crew are trained to command people to leave their things behind, there's only so much they can do without slowing things down even further.
Lastly, we're hearing murmurs already about the fact that Asiana Airlines hails from South Korea, a country with a checkered past when it comes to air safety. Let's nip this storyline in the bud. In the 1980s and 1990s, that country's largest carrier, Korean Air, suffered a spate of fatal accidents, culminating with the crash of Flight 801 in Guam in 1997. The airline was faulted for poor training standards and a rigid, authoritarian cockpit culture. The carrier was ostracized by many in the global aviation community, including its airline code-share partners. But South Korean aviation is very different today, following a systemic and very expensive overhaul of the nation's civil aviation system. A 2008 assessment by ICAO, the civil aviation branch of the United Nations, ranked South Korea's aviation safety standards, including its pilot training standards, as nothing less than the highest in the world, beating out more than 100 other countries. As they should be, South Koreans are immensely proud of this turnaround, and Asiana Airlines, the nation's No. 2 carrier, had maintained an impeccable record of both customer satisfaction and safety.
Whatever happened on final approach into SFO, I highly doubt that it was anything related to the culture of South Korean air safety in 2013. Plane crashes are increasingly rare the world over. But they will continue to happen from time to time, and no airline or country is 100 percent immune.