Asiana Airlines Flight 214: The Boeing 777’s First Fatal Crash

On July 6, 2013, a seven-year-old Asiana Airlines Boeing 777-200ER with the registration number HL7742 crashed on final approach to San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Of the 307 passengers and crew, there were three fatalities and 49 seriously injured. The accident marked the first time a Boeing triple seven had crashed since its introduction into service in 1995.

It is nearly an 11-hour flight from ICN to SFO. Image:GCmaps

On July 6, 2013, Asiana Airlines Flight OZ214 took off from Inchon International Airport (ICN) at 17:04 KST, 34 minutes after its scheduled departure time. Following an uneventful crossing of the Pacific Ocean, the aircraft was expected to land in San Francisco at 11:04 PDT. At the time of the approach, SFO reported 6-7 knots winds with visibility of ten plus miles.


A pilot training on the Boeing 777 was flying the plane

An instructor pilot was sitting in the right seat while a pilot undergoing training on the Boeing 777 was flying the plane from the left-hand seat. Occupying the jump seat was the flight’s relief first officer. The pilot in control of the aircraft had logged 9,700 flying hours, and it was his tenth flight leg training on the Boeing 777.

A month earlier, the instrument landing system’s vertical guidance (glide slope) on Runway 28L had been taken out of service, and a notice to airmen was issued. With the ILS out of service, a precision approach on runway 28L was not available.

Overhead view of Asiana Airlines Flight 214post-accident at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Photo:
NTSB via Wikimedia Commons.

Operating the controls under the instructor’s supervision in the right seat, the pilot flying the plane was cleared to land on runway 28L and told to maintain a speed of 180 knots. With the landing gear down and flaps set at 30 degrees, the target threshold speed was 137 knots. At 1,600 feet, the autopilot was disengaged and the aircraft descended through 1,400 feet at a speed of 170 knots, slowing down to 149 knots at 1,000 feet.

At 500 feet, the speed had dropped to 134 knots, three knots below the targeted 137 knots. At 200 feet, the plane’s speed had decreased even further to 118 knots. The instructor pilot said he had spotted four red PAPI lights (precision approach path indicator lights – lights beside the runway which provide pilots with a visual indicator of their aircraft’s position relative to the correct glidepath for the runway) and determined that the autothrottle had not maintained the correct speed. Eight seconds before impact, the throttles were moved forward, with one of the crew calling for the speed to be increased.

Someone on the flight deck then called for a go-around, but it was too late. A part of the landing gear struck a seawall. The aircraft spun left 360 degrees before coming to a stop 2,400 feet down the left side of runway 28L. Adding to the crash was the pilot flying the plane’s unintended deactivation of automatic airspeed control.

The NTSB investigation

The NTSB determined that, once it was seen that the aircraft was below the acceptable glide path and airspeed, a go-around should have been performed. The NTSB also noted the following contributing factors to the crash:

  1. In its documentation, Boeing failed to describe the complexities of the 777s autothrottle and autopilot flight director systems.
  2. The crew’s non-standard communication and coordination regarding using the autothrottle and autopilot flight director systems.
  3. Inadequate pilot training for planning and executing visual approach landings.
  4. Inadequate monitoring, supervision, and instruction of the pilot flying the aircraft by the instructor pilot.
  5. Fatigue and a downgraded performance following a nearly 11-hour flight.

Asiana promised to work harder

Following the crash, SFO was closed for five hours, with incoming planes diverted to other nearby airports. Two weeks later, Asiana Airlines announced that it would retire flight numbers 214 and 213 and operate new flights between ICN and SFO as OZ212 and OZ211. The Korean airline also said that it would improve the training for pilots learning to fly new types of aircraft and work on better crew communication and fatigue management.

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