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

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll 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.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs