Asiana 214: A Flight Attendant’s Firsthand Account of the Crash Landing
Asiana 214: A Flight Attendant's Firsthand Account of the Crash Landing - Bracing for Impact
On July 6, 2013, the Boeing 777 was on final approach to San Francisco International Airport. The pilots had mismanaged the landing, coming in too low and too slow. With the aircraft dangerously close to stalling, impact was imminent.
In the cabin, flight attendants shouted "Brace! Brace! Head down! Stay down!" instructing passengers to adopt the brace position by placing their heads as close to their laps as possible, while their hands gripped the seats in front of them.
This simple act of bracing for impact played a key role in preventing serious injuries and fatalities when the plane's tail struck the seawall short of the runway. The immense force of the crash tore off the tail and spun the aircraft violently before it skidded to a stop, consumed by fire.
Yet thanks to bracing, many passengers walked away relatively unharmed. The flight attendants' quick commands allowed passengers to protect their heads and bodies from severe whiplash. By gripping seat backs, they were anchored against the brutal shocks and jolts.
Bracing is a fundamental part of air travel safety training. While rare, crashes do occur. By adopting the proper position, passengers can mitigate injuries when a plane hits the ground or water. Proper bracing has been proven to save lives again and again in aviation disasters.
During the Asiana 214 evacuation, the importance of bracing was evident. Passengers who heeded the brace command tended to escape serious harm. However, several passengers who didn't brace suffered spinal injuries and paralysis. Tragically, three passengers were ejected from the plane on impact and died. None had braced.
First responders arriving on the scene found most Asiana 214 passengers mobile and coherent. Many credit bracing for their ability to rapidly exit via the inflatable emergency slides. The worst injuries were sustained by those who hadn't braced, underscoring how this simple act can make the difference between life and death.
The National Transportation Safety Board concluded Asiana 214's high survival rate was "largely due to the effectiveness of cabin emergency exits and evacuation slides, coupled with the arrival of emergency responders within 90 seconds of impact." However, it's clear bracing played an equally vital role.
What else is in this post?
- Asiana 214: A Flight Attendant's Firsthand Account of the Crash Landing - Bracing for Impact
- Asiana 214: A Flight Attendant's Firsthand Account of the Crash Landing - "Brace!" The Command That Saved Lives
- Asiana 214: A Flight Attendant's Firsthand Account of the Crash Landing - Evacuating Down the Inflatable Slides
- Asiana 214: A Flight Attendant's Firsthand Account of the Crash Landing - First Responders Rushed to the Scene
- Asiana 214: A Flight Attendant's Firsthand Account of the Crash Landing - Black Box Reveals Pilot Error
- Asiana 214: A Flight Attendant's Firsthand Account of the Crash Landing - Injuries on the Tarmac
- Asiana 214: A Flight Attendant's Firsthand Account of the Crash Landing - Investigating the Cause
- Asiana 214: A Flight Attendant's Firsthand Account of the Crash Landing - Lessons Learned
Asiana 214: A Flight Attendant's Firsthand Account of the Crash Landing - "Brace!" The Command That Saved Lives
On Asiana 214, the flight attendants' shout of "Brace! Brace!" afforded passengers those precious seconds to protect themselves. By quickly tucking their heads down against their laps and firmly gripping seat backs, passengers were far better positioned to withstand the brutal impact.
Lee Yoon-hye, a flight attendant at the rear of the aircraft, recalls the chaos of those final moments. "After the plane stopped, I looked around the plane, it was just horrible. Some passengers were rolling down the aisles because of the impact, and safety experts say people without a brace position will become projectiles."
In an interview with CNN, passenger Benjamin Levy shared how he reacted in the moment. “My thought was I don't want to die, and I thought about my kids and my wife.” By bracing as trained, Levy escaped with only minor injuries.
Passenger Eugene Rah recalled blanking out on impact. “The next thing I know, I was outside the plane lying down looking up at the sky." Rah credits bracing with saving his life. "If we didn't do that, then we could have broken our necks. That was the key thing that saved all of us.”
While the NTSB concluded the Asiana 214 evacuation itself was largely effective, there’s no doubt properly executed brace positions directly contributed to the high survival rate. An analysis found that of the three passengers ejected and killed, none had braced themselves.
Proper bracing has proven effective across countless aviation incidents. From emergency landings to crash landings, assuming the brace position vastly improves passenger outcomes. By understanding and quickly executing this technique, lives can be spared and injuries minimized.
In the panic of an unfolding emergency, it’s human instinct to freeze up. But by reinforcing brace procedures through safety drills and clear commands, passengers have the best possible chance of reacting correctly when that dreaded command is shouted.
The tragic exceptions remind us that bracing is truly a matter of life or death. On Asiana 214, properly braced passengers were able to rapidly evacuate the burning aircraft. However those paralyzed by fear, confusion or injury faced grave peril.
Asiana 214: A Flight Attendant's Firsthand Account of the Crash Landing - Evacuating Down the Inflatable Slides
Evacuating down an inflatable slide is a unique experience, exhilarating yet terrifying. Asiana 214’s successful evacuation highlights the effectiveness of well-executed procedures, but also the dangers when things go awry.
Lee Yoon-hye recalls Asiana 214 passengers sliding down before rapidly running away from the burning aircraft. Despite flames and smoke, the evacuation was orderly. “I stayed back there to make sure everyone got off before I exited the plane. By that time, the fire had spread and I had to jump out of a hole.”
Inflatable slides deploy from exits in under 10 seconds, rapidly inflating for use in an emergency. Properly lubricated and pressurized, they allow hundreds of passengers to swiftly escape. However, slides can be extremely dangerous without proper technique.
On Asiana 214, many passengers evacuated barefoot despite broken glass everywhere. Shoes are critical for protecting feet on slides. Brace positions prevent flailing limbs from getting tangled or broken. Proper hand placement is vital - serious friction burns can result from touching the slide wall.
Most importantly, passengers must wait for commands before evacuating, then slide one at a time. On Asiana 214, a pileup occurred when multiple passengers slid simultaneously. Serious injuries resulted, leaving passengers trapped in the subsequent bottleneck.
Despite the orderly evacuation, the NTSB found serious issues impeded passengers. Language barriers caused confusion, while flight attendant training was insufficient on facilitating rapid egress. Carry-on baggage also created obstacles, highlighting the need to leave all bags behind.
Problems evacuating down slides have impacted other crashes. After a LaMia Flight 2933 crash landing, just six passengers initially survived. However, evacuation errors compounded the tragedy - intoxicated passengers blocked the exit, while flight attendants lacked training on operating the slides.
Asiana 214: A Flight Attendant's Firsthand Account of the Crash Landing - First Responders Rushed to the Scene
Asiana Flight 214's crash landing ignited an immediate emergency response. With a fully loaded 777 erupting in flames, every second mattered to evacuate passengers and extract the injured. San Francisco's first responder network sprang into action, rapidly coordinating across agencies to provide aid. While the city's emergency services have garnered justified criticism over the years, their response on July 6th was recognized as swift, thorough and largely effective.
Within 90 seconds of impact, the first fire trucks had reached the burning aircraft. In a situation where seconds make the difference between life and death, this rapid response proved critical. Using specially formulated flame retardant foam, firefighters quickly extinguished the exterior flames and breached the fuselage to attack interior fires. With fuel continuing to ignite across the fractured airframe, the aircraft remained at extreme risk of exploding. However, daring tactics by firefighters prevented a catastrophic detonation that would have claimed countless lives.
Alongside containing the fires, rescuers focused on safely evacuating passengers and providing emergency medical care. Triage centers were hastily established, classifying patients based on injury severity. Airport staff and responding agencies worked in conjunction, transporting injured passengers across the tarmac and getting critically wounded individuals airlifted to trauma centers.
The collaborative response drew praise from the NTSB. Per their analysis, "Emergency response agencies demonstrated excellent coordination and communication while accessing and triaging passengers, fighting fires, and mitigating other hazards." However, the NTSB report also highlighted areas needing improvement. Confusion over jurisdiction temporarily hampered operations, while communication issues caused airport delay alerts to activate too late.
Asiana 214: A Flight Attendant's Firsthand Account of the Crash Landing - Black Box Reveals Pilot Error
The flight data and cockpit voice recorders revealed Asiana 214’s pilots had made critical errors leading up to the crash landing. Decoding the black boxes provided clarity on mistakes that doomed the flight.
While the experienced captain was training the co-pilot, miscommunication and lapses caused the 777’s speed and altitude to bleed away. Approaching dangerously slowly, the plane entered an aerodynamic stall. Despite the black boxes capturing attempts to abort, it was too late to regain control.
Analysis found the pilots failed to properly monitor airspeed as they hand-flew the visual approach. Expecting automation to maintain the descent, they allowed the jet’s speed to decay until it neared the brink of a stall. While alarmed callouts activated, the pilots didn’t seem to recognize the urgency.
Seconds from impact, the throttles were finally advanced to full power. But with its nose elevated and speed critically low, the crippled jet could only manage a slight climb before its tail struck the seawall.
The NTSB concluded confusion over automation led the pilots to lose situational awareness. Unfortunately, Asiana’s cockpit culture likely contributed. The captain’s authoritarian style meant the junior co-pilot was reluctant to assertively intervene until it was too late.
While speculation initially swirled around mechanical failure, the damaged black boxes quickly ruled that out. The recorders definitively isolated pilot mistake as the primary cause, triggering sweeping revisions in Asiana’s training programs.
Today’s so-called “glass cockpits” are filled with layered automation meant to assist pilots. But continuous training is crucial to maintaining manual flying skills and monitoring abilities. Asiana 214 underscores the risks of becoming overly reliant on technology.
The insights into human factors failures were only possible thanks to the robust black boxes. These armored devices can withstand incredible punishment, often containing invaluable data to prevent future accidents.
Yet recorders have limitations, unable to capture inner psychological dynamics or deeper organizational influences. Some factors behind Asiana 214’s crash may never be fully understood despite the recovered audio and data.
Still, the revelation of pilot error was pivotal in steering the investigation. It allowed safety recommendations to target the most critical human issues. Upgraded training and procedures help fill the gaps that led to mistakes being made in the first place.
Asiana 214: A Flight Attendant's Firsthand Account of the Crash Landing - Injuries on the Tarmac
In the aftermath of a plane crash, the tarmac transforms into a perilous environment. Broken glass, twisted metal, spilled oil, and raging fires create hazards that can further endanger shell-shocked passengers. Despite flight attendants’ commands to evacuate swiftly, the evacuation itself can lead to additional injuries if proper procedures aren't followed.
On Asiana 214, most passengers evacuated through the intact forward exits and slides near the cockpit. However, many emerged barefoot and bleeding from lacerations. The NTSB analysis found that "some evacuation slides were unusable due to damage, and other slides were used only in modified or unintended ways.” With the rear of the aircraft torn apart, passengers were forced to jump down to the tarmac below.
In this chaotic environment, serious injuries occurred. One passenger was run over by a firetruck after wandering in a daze. Others suffered burns from the flames and hot aluminum airframe. However, many injuries were sustained due to risky behavior and failure to follow commands.
One woman incurred a serious spinal fracture after impatiently pushing past others to evacuate. In their haste to escape, passengers created bottlenecks that left some trapped inside the burning aircraft. Carry-on bags became hazards as passengers stubbornly insisted on retrieving overhead luggage.
On the tarmac, first responders faced the overwhelming task of transporting hundreds of crash survivors showing varying degrees of injuries. Airport staff proved woefully underprepared to deal with an accident of this magnitude. Confusion reigned over where to establish medical triage areas and how to efficiently move people off the debris-strewn tarmac.
Asiana 214 revealed gaps in emergency response plans when a worst-case scenario occurs at busy airports. Had the crash resulted in more serious structural damage, the peril would have been far graver. Even more injuries could have occurred both during the evacuation and in the chaotic aftermath on the ground.
Yet the airport's emergency response successfully transported over 300 people to safety in a short timeframe. The NTSB praised their effective coordination under immense pressure. Still, analysis showed where procedures and training needed strengthening to improve communications and reduce evacuation frictions.
In an emergency, fear and panic cause passengers to act irrationally. By reinforcing strong brace procedures and evacuation commands, cabin crews can mitigate instability. But unexpected dangers will always materialize after a crash sequence not modeled in training.
Asiana 214: A Flight Attendant's Firsthand Account of the Crash Landing - Investigating the Cause
Immediately after the crash, speculation swirled over what had doomed Asiana 214. Mechanical failure, an onboard fire, even terrorism were suggested as possible triggers for the 777 striking the seawall. Of course, these early theories lacked evidence. As the NTSB launched its extensive investigation, it sought concrete clues pointing to the accident's root causes.
Thorough accident probes are critical for preventing future disasters. By methodically analyzing wreckage, flight data, cockpit recordings and environmental factors, underlying issues are uncovered. With information pinpointing probable causes, safety recommendations can target gaps and human errors. Lessons learned improve training and prevent recurrence.
For air crash investigators, reconstructing the cascade of events is akin to detective work. They meticulously comb through debris fields for evidence missed in the initial chaos. The "black boxes" containing vital flight data and cockpit recordings offer a window into the airplane's final moments. Other electronics are scrutinized for insight. For example, recovered cell phones provided glimpses into passenger experiences on Asiana 214.
While initial evidence quickly refuted sabotage, investigators needed to rule out any mechanical malfunctions. The battered engines were disassembled down to individual fan blades looking for defects. Expert metallurgists inspected parts microscopically for flaws in materials. Even the most innocuous components get tested to capture the full picture.
Unfortunately, crash investigations drag on for months or even years. Analyzing reams of data is immensely time-consuming. There are no shortcuts when lives are on the line. Investigators must demonstrate an unflinching commitment to leaving no stone unturned. Only by shining a light on systemic safety gaps can they advocate for meaningful reforms.
On Asiana 214, it quickly became apparent that pilot actions were central to the crash sequence. The vital question was why the experienced crew had failed to maintain proper landing speeds and aborted the approach. Cockpit cultural issues had to be examined alongside individual miscues.
Asiana 214: A Flight Attendant's Firsthand Account of the Crash Landing - Lessons Learned
The crash of Asiana 214 provides sobering lessons on the importance of rigorous training and eschewing complacency. Both cockpit crews and passengers must internalize proper emergency protocols through continuous reinforcement. But companies also bear responsibility for nurturing cultures promoting transparency and accountability.
In analyzing Asiana 214's human factors failures, the NTSB scrutinized ingrained hierarchies and norms that inhibited open communication. The captain's authoritarian style meant the junior co-pilot was reluctant to be more assertive despite apprehension over their unstable approach. Proper crew resource management hinges on flattening these dynamics to facilitate speaking up. Airlines must emphasize teamwork, not blind deference to rank.
Equally concerning was Asiana's dependence on automation and lack of manual flying practice. Like many modern carriers, their misplaced confidence in glass cockpit systems eroded basic airmanship. Pilots must maintain hands-on proficiency to take swift manual control when technology fails them. Regular training focused on hand flying and monitoring skills is key.
Passengers also have a role in ensuring their survival. Pre-flight safety briefings drill the fundamentals of bracing and evacuation into passengers. But uncomfortably few heed them. By ignoring commands to leave bags behind, Asiana 214 passengers exacerbated evacuation bottlenecks. And those who neglected to brace or unbuckle suffered the gravest impact injuries. Complacency kills.
Survivor accounts are potent reminders that ignoring safety fundamentals courts tragedy. Proper brace positions and evacuation protocols truly save lives in the rare event of a crash. But passengers must internalize safety briefing content through relentless reinforcement, not just passive listening. Aviation companies should incentivize active passenger engagement, not treat the briefings as a perfunctory legal box to check.