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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid