News / Asia

Aviation Experts Question Whether Culture Had Role in Asiana Crash

Aviation Experts Question Whether Culture Had Role in Asiana Crashi
X
August 16, 2013 10:13 PM
Korean culture teaches a strong deference to authority - a strict hierarchy that has been established throughout the centuries. It also prides itself on conformity. But some say traditional Korean culture differs from cockpit culture in jet airplanes. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti and producer Brandon Goldner, along with VOA’s Daniel Schearf in Seoul, take a look at how that may have affected Asian Airlines Flight 214, which crashed in San Francisco last month.
July 6, 2013.  San Francisco, California. An Asiana Airlines captain flies the plane in for a visual approach, without automated control. The National Transportation Safety Board’s Deborah Hersman says it came in too low and too slow. 
 
“About five seconds later and about three seconds before impact, there is a call for a go-around [aborted landing]. There is a second call for a go-around at 1.5 seconds prior to impact.”
 
The 777 hits the seawall and crashes, leaving three people dead and 180 injured.
 
The NTSB says the cockpit recorder for the South Korean jet indicates the crew had problems in the approach. The NTSB says it was the first time the crew had flown together. There was no cockpit discussion about aborting the landing, despite automated announcements of low altitude and despite frantic urgings from the other two pilots to go around seconds before the plane hit the ground. There was no mention of low speed until nine seconds before impact.
 
History of problems

Sixteen years earlier on Guam, Korean Airlines flight 801 crashed, killing 228 people. 
 
The NTSB accident report indicated problems with the approach. Again, it was the first time the crew had flown together.  Again, the report cited no cockpit discussion about a go-around -- even though the first officer urged a go-around six seconds before impact. 
 
Map of Asiana and Korean Air incidents since 1990.Map of Asiana and Korean Air incidents since 1990.
x
Map of Asiana and Korean Air incidents since 1990.
Map of Asiana and Korean Air incidents since 1990.
“The Safety Board concludes that the first officer and flight engineer failed to properly monitor and/or challenge the captain’s performance, which was causal to the accident," the NTSB reported.  It goes on to say, “Problems associated with subordinate officers challenging a captain are well known.”  It also mentions “KAL’s inadequate flight crew training.”
 
Two years later, another fatal crash involving Korean Air occurs in London.  According to the British Aircraft Accident Report, the first officer said nothing about the plane’s unsafe altitude and the captain ignored warnings from the flight engineer, who was 20 years his junior. The investigative team advised the South Koreans to revise training to “accommodate the Korean culture,” which places great weight on seniority and discourages younger people and subordinates from challenging their elders or superiors.
 
The South Korean government ordered Korean Air to suspend 138 flights a week for 6 months and to concentrate on improving safety and training. 
 
Suspension, downgrade

Transport Canada conducted a special safety audit of Korean Air and then issued a notice of suspension to Korean Air. The airline corrected the safety concerns so the suspension never took effect. 
 
The FAA downgraded all of South Korea's airlines from a Category 1 International Safety rating to a Category 2. By the end of the year, South Korea regained its Category 1 status.
 
At the time, Jim Hall was the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, which had investigated the Guam crash. 
 
VOA showed him the similarities between that 1997 crash and the one involving Asiana. 
 
“I think the Asiana crash (investigator) is going to have to look and ask, ‘Was this an unusual situation in which it was just crew error? Or is this an indication that the lessons that were pointed out in the previous accidents still have not been learned and not taken root in the Korean aviation system?’ ” Hall said.
 
The NTSB and South Korean officials say the captain landing in San Francisco, Lee Kang-kook, was on his first trip to become certified to operate the 777. He has logged more than 9,400 hours of flying, but only 43 on the 777. 
 
The instructor pilot, Captain Lee Jeong-min, was on his first trip as a training captain and was the senior pilot. As a former military pilot, he is three years older. He has more than 12,000 flight hours and 3,200 on the 777. The relief co-pilot is seven years his junior. 
 
Cultural idiosyncrasies

Sources who understand Korean culture say many factors establish hierarchy - like age, rank, schools attended, union status and military service. Conformity is encouraged.
 
A former Asiana pilot who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity described how seniority can be established at the airline. “The military pilots get super-seniority when they get hired by Asiana," he says. "They get a 10-year career in the service and maybe only get out with 2,000 hours of fly time. In America, most airlines have a seniority system. If your seniority number comes up and you want to bid for a new airplane, you have to pass the proper tests.”
 
Park Jong-kook is executive director of the South Korean pilots' union.
 
“It was true that this kind of tradition affected the communication at the cockpit before the crash in Guam happened," says Park. "There was a vertical or military tradition in the past. But, the companies have put forward a lot of effort to improve this kind of tradition.”
 
Kwon Yong-bok is director general of Aviation Safety Policy at the South Korean transport ministry. He says about 14 percent of the pilots in the country are foreigners, "so Korean culture is changing more globally and universally.”
 
Ross Aimer, a former United Airlines captain, was brought in to train the Korean Air pilots in 2005 and 2006.   
 
Change hard to come by

“It would take perhaps generations of pilots to eventually change the culture into a Western type of flying culture.”
 
Captain Vic Hooper retired from Asiana two years ago. He says Korean deference in the cockpit was evident from his very first flight until his last. 
 
“I met the other three pilots, I’m going to fly with one of them, but both the first officers come up to me and they put their hands across their chests, and they bow and shake their hands, which is part of their culture, which is show their subservience to the rank. Because like I said, they respect rank, age, and position.”
 
No investigator has yet to formally connect cockpit culture to this crash. But Jim Hall hopes what NTSB investigators accomplished in the '90s was not in vain.
 
“With a decade, it’s not unusual, unfortunately in the accident investigation business, to find that lessons learned are also lessons forgotten as times pass,” he says.
 
Asiana executives bowed and expressed their sympathy and regret at a news conference the same day as the crash. They are initially paying $10,000 to each survivor, but did not want to be interviewed for this story. 
 
Korean Air refused VOA requests for interviews, although KAL did send a list of all the improvements it made following the crashes in the 1990s. Changes were made to training, flight manuals, safety audits and more. KAL, though, is currently under a special safety review by the South Korean government, after one of its jets overshot a runway on August 6. 
 
Additional reporting by Brandon Goldner in Washington, D.C., and Daniel Schearf in South Korea.

Related video report by Carolyn Presutti:


Carolyn Presutti

Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters.   She has also won numerous Associated Press awards and a Clarion for her coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, and The 9/11 Bombing Anniversary.  In 2013, Carolyn aired exclusive stories on the Asiana plane crash and was named VOA’s chief reporter with Google Glass.

You can follow Carolyn on Twitter at CarolynVOA, on Google Plus and Facebook.

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More