Asiana 214, and why I wear Hawaiian shirts when I fly

The details surrounding the crash of Asiana 214, a Boeing 777-200ER en route from Seoul Incheon to San Francisco yesterday are still trickling in and likely will be for a long, long time. The NTSB is performing their investigation and both the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder (a/k/a the "Black Boxes") have been recovered and are en route for analysis. There are two confirmed fatalities of the more than 300 passengers and crew on board which is, in many ways, incredible that the number is so low. Obviously subject to change as things develop but it seems that rather than being a horrible tragedy this even will end up as another instance where things could have been much, much worse.

While many things about the incident strike me as absolutely amazing there are a few which I think are worth highlighting.

  • The pilots of the flight were still in communication with ATC after coming to a stop. They had both the presence of mind to call for help and the systems were still functional. That’s pretty impressive.
  • More impressive than that, however, was the controller working the tower for ATC at the time. He was calm (at least as much as one can be in such a situation) and was able to both handle the planes on final approach – I count a handful of "go arounds" issued including new flight paths and handing them off to other controllers – and also stay in contact with the pilot of OZ214 to let him know that emergency crews were en route. The 2.5 minutes of audio is an incredible listen (mirrored from when their server was getting slammed yesterday). If you ever need a reminder that everyone involved in the air travel world truly is a professional moments like this put it in to stark clarity.
  • The ability to evacuate 300 people off a plane in less than 2 minutes is incredible. From the pictures I can see it appears the plane spun skidded to the left upon landing, doing a near 180 before coming to rest between 28L and the adjacent taxiway. After seeing the latest video it appears the plane did a “flat spin” pivoting on the left wingtip doing a near 360 degree rotation with the right wingtip elevating ~45 degrees at one point following impact. It is not clear why the left wing dipped and caught the earth causing the spin.
  • At least one engine detached and it appears to have blocked exit 2R when the plane finally came to rest. Slides were deployed from 1L and 2L. Doors are open at 3L, 3R, 4L and 4R with no slides visible. I’m not sure if a slide deployed at 1R or not. The back of the plane was very close to the ground so my guess is the FAs purposefully disengaged the slides as they would have impaired the exit process, but I don’t really know for sure. We’ll learn details there eventually.
  • The ability for idiots to pass themselves off as experts is incredible. The "news" reporting of this incident was stunning in its incompetence. It is a shame, really, as there are a lot of very good and important stories to be told. Alas, we’re stuck talking about "landing strips" and having reporters ask the NTSB team how old the plane is, among other idiocy.
  • The part where a troll or two took to twitter and started sharing as though they were part of the events was similarly awful. Whether hashtag hijacking to try to get more followers with unrelated content or, in the case of one account, actually pretending they were a customer while sharing picture lifted from other accounts or even other planes, it is disgusting. There are a lot of sick people out there.

And then there’s my reference to Hawaiian shirts in the thread title. Yes, I know they’re a questionable fashion choice and yet I am almost always wearing one when flying. Events like this are one reason why. One of the things I love about flying is that there is so much consistency in the experience, even across different airlines. Part of that consistency, for me, comes from having my passport and ticket in my shirt pocket and my shoes on at takeoff and landing. And, in addition to being comfortable, the pocket on those shirts is generally larger than on my other button-down shirts so it holds my passport comfortably. I don’t expect to ever need to take advantage of that preparedness, but I do it anyways.

There is still a lot to learn about the events at SFO yesterday. But I’ve got a ticket booked on Asiana for later this year and I have absolutely no intentions of changing my plans.

I purposefully didn’t include any photos in this post, mostly because they aren’t mine but also because they could be a bit disturbing with the burnt out fuselage. A few twitter posts worth looking at with some pictures in them include:

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I agree that ATC did a remarkable job. They deserve as much credit as any of the first responders and not only the tower, but NorCal as well. Thanks to them we’re only reading about one plane crash today.

  2. Yeah, the television broadcast media did a poor job yesterday, but KCBS radio i thought did a very good job.

    And good advice about takeoff/landing preparedness. Good post.

  3. A point always worth being reminded of: shoes on and laced up, and passport(s) and phone on my person during takeoff and landing. Always.

    Your Hawaiian shirt = my Bellroy travel wallet in this context.

  4. Some of the injury reports are spinal fractures apparently due to belted passengers being thrown forward and then back. Is that why seatbelts should be low and tight?

  5. Thanks for such a sensible and balanced report of things. Agree a new found respect for ATC staff – don’t know if you caught Airport Live on the BBC a couple of weeks ago, but very impressive to see them at work first hand!

  6. The NTSB briefing this afternoon (13:30 PDT) was incredibly informative. Based on the initial review of the CVR/FDR (the “black boxes”) the plane was apparently flying way too slow and the crew attempted to initiate a go around but it was apparently too late.

    Also interesting is a video showing the impact. The plane actually appears to do a near 360 degree “flat” spin with the left wingtip on the ground and the right wingtip elevated a bit (~45 degrees at most, I’m guessing, but the video is small and not all that clear). That’s how the plane ended up in the position it is in on the side of the runway.

    Finally, my respect for the NTSB went up a lot this afternoon as I listened to their director give a press conference in which she basically smacked down every journalist speculating on anything, reminding them that reporting facts is more important and that they should be educating their readers, not guessing.

  7. Credit should also be given to the Flight Attendants for their quick and efficient evacuation. Without them those doors would not have opened and without their commands most passengers would have panicked and freeze.

  8. I am not an emotional person, but for some reason I started crying when I was listening to that ATC feed. I can’t imagine what those people on OZ214 must have been going through. And I am in awe of the ATC professionals. If anything like this ever happens to me, I can only hope for such expertise.

  9. Here’s a couple more tips:

    – Never wear shorts when flying (you can pick up a nasty rug burn going down the slide)
    – Don’t wear panty hose (they actually can melt from the friction of going down the slide)
    – Mentioned above: always have your shoes on for takeoff and landing
    – No matter how many times you’ve heard it, pay rapt attention to the safety briefing
    – Count the rows to the nearest exit (ahead or behind you)
    – Never grab your personal belongings (despite what you see in some of the OZ pics) – they will just slow your exit as well as those behind you. There is nothing you have packed that is worth a life.
    – Listen to crewmember instructions – they have been specifically trained for emergencies; you never know how you will react in one and some people don’t have a clear head about them. So listen and follow directions.
    – if you sit in an exit row, take it seriously! You could be the person getting people to leap out of an airplane-are you willing and able to help?

  10. Yes, I was disappointed by the coverage. I was listening to Here and Now on NPR and they did a teaser for the segment they were having with a pilot, that made it sound like he was going to say how hard it is to fly different planes and to land at different airports when you’re used to another one (i.e. 747 to 777 or landing at SFO for the first time). When he was actually on, he said the opposite. does every news outlet feel like they must say something about the crash, even if they have nothing meaningful to add to the discussions.
    I was also surprised that I haven’t heard anyone on the news mention the fact that people brought bags with them off the plane, and that you should absolutely NOT do that. That can literally cost someone’s life behind you. It seems like this is a great opportunity to remind people in real life that if you will feel like grabbing something before you get off the plane, make sure it is ON you, so that you won’t. Like you with your passport and phone. I’ve got two little kids, so I don’t see anything other then getting them off the plane going through my mind, but passport and phone in a pocket is a great idea.

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