Last Saturday’s crash of an Asiana Airlines jetliner as it was landing in San Francisco brought about the tragic deaths of two Chinese girls on their way to summer camp in the United States. But photographs of the burned-out hulk of the $260 million Boeing 777 make clear how truly remarkable it is that there were no other fatalities among the more than 300 passengers and crew aboard.
Thanks are due not only to the heroic flight attendants who guided passengers to emergency chutes, but to the design of the aircraft itself. What you get for your money in a modern airliner is, among other features, a cabin designed to allow the evacuation of a full aircraft within 90 seconds.
The surviving Asiana passengers and crew were able to get clear of the aircraft before it burst into flames. While 182 went to hospitals for various injuries, including six in critical condition, the rest survived with no injury. Joanne Hayes-White, the San Francisco Fire Department chief, said it was “nothing short of a miracle that we had 123 people walk away from this.”
Videos and eyewitnesses suggest the aircraft was flying too low and too slow when its landing gear hit a sea wall and sent it tumbling. Questions have also been raised about other factors that may have contributed to the tragedy.
The cause of the crash is under investigation by Korean authorities and the National Transportation Safety Board, and until the NTSB reports any conjectures about the crash will remain speculation. Nevertheless, the reported inexperience of the pilot in landing the 777 is unsettling, to say the least.
But one thing is already clear: This was a very rare event. It was only the second mishap to the 777 in its 18-year history and the first to claim a life.
The last major scheduled airline fatality in the United States occurred in 2001, although Colgan Airlines, a small operator, lost an aircraft and all 49 aboard in a Feb. 12, 2009 crash in Buffalo, N.Y.
The Associated Press reports there are about two deaths worldwide for every 100 million passengers on commercial flights.
That speaks to the comparative safety of air travel in general and the ability of assiduous federal investigators to pinpoint the cause of crashes, so that errors can be rectified for future assurance.
And the brave, rapid, effective response of the flight attendants last week speaks well of their training — and their commitment to passenger safety.