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

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor 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.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

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