On Saturday July 6th, 2013, I got a message from a friend simply saying “777 SFO! OMG!” Most of you know what followed. Like you, I went to a trusted news network, and watched live footage of a 777 on fire, after having attempted to land on 28L in San Francisco.

First and foremost, my condolences on behalf of Angle of Attack go out to all the families of those injured, and deceased. Any time there is an accident in aviation, any loss of life is considered terribly unfortunate. Although there are an incredible amount of survivors, too many were injured, and 2 too many teenage girls lost their lives.

We are saddened by this tragedy, and respect there has been loss of life.

I will even venture to say that our hearts go out to the pilots of this aircraft. This is an incredibly difficult and trying time for these individuals, and the world is out to prove they were responsible. Chances are, based on how these things usually happen, they are responsible. Nonetheless, their heartache and burden must be heavy as well.

I’d like to spell out some lessons we’ve learned from this accident so far. It’s my desire to be brief. But because I am passionate about aviation, and this subject, I may get carried away.

First, watch a video of the accident:

The News is Ignorant, and Stupid

Until today, 48 hours later, I haven’t seen much coherent items coming from any news organization. Finally they are getting a hold of some ‘sources’ that are actual pilots to set them straight.

Do me a favor: Anything you hear on the news, no matter how official it may sound, discard it. Unless you are hearing from a REAL pilot or the NTSB, you’re going to hear a load of lies and misinformed information.

Watch Captain Sully school the news:

Truth is, news organizations are there for views. They will sensationalize this event as something much larger than what it really is. Usually at the core of that is fear. Fear of an incompetent flight crew, fear of rules that endanger you as a passenger.

All this news to date has been misinformed, sometimes silly, and terribly self serving.

Ignore it.

Crew Resource Management (CRM) was a Factor

If you’ve read anything about the crash so far, you will have deducted that it doesn’t appear anything whatsoever was wrong with the aircraft. The NTSB has even mentioned this.

So, it appears at this time that at some level there was a breakdown of CRM, or Crew Resource Management. CRM is when a crew works together as a team for the safety of the flight.

The aircraft crashed under normal circumstances, during a routine maneuver. The Cockpit Voice Recorder reveals as well that the pilots appeared to be operating as if there wasn’t a failure of any kind.

Corrections were attempted, but they were made far too late for the aircraft to be able to pull out of it’s terrible attitude.

As tough as it is to say, it appears that this is the result of a simple breakdown in communication. More information will come to light, but the initial evidence shows a completely capable aircraft was essentially driven into the ground short of the runway.

This is called Controlled Flight Into Terrain, or CFIT. CFIT should NEVER happen. Ever.

The Boeing 777 Has an Unprecedented Safety Record

This wasn’t the 777’s fault. You can point fingers at… something. But it won’t be the 777. The 777 has only had 2 accidents in 18 years of service. It has qualified for increased ETOPS certification, was delivered on time initially, and overall has proven it’s reliability over the years.

It wasn’t the airplane.

That is the bottom line.

Why is this section short? Because there is no argument to the fact that it wasn’t the airplane. Even if the aircraft had some sort of malfunction, it would be a minor consideration when looking at how the pilots handled the last part of the approach.

The Boeing 777 is a Tank

There have been two major accidents of the 777. First was British Airways Flight 38. This was a case of failure on the aircrafts part.

Now this accident.



In both, which fortunately happened at an airport, the aircraft appeared to have remained plenty intact during their violent event.

Let’s admit it: the 777 is built like a tank. The fact that anyone survived this latest event in San Francisco lends some favor to the aircraft itself. If you’ve seen the crash footage, you’ll notice that is ‘cartwheels’ in a sense and comes back down upright (thankfully) on it’s belly.

That is one well built aircraft to withstand all that.

Asiana Airlines Also Has a Great Safety Record

Some may try and pin down Asiana Airlines and reveal them as having some sort of safety flaw, or being more dangerous than other airlines. Asiana Airlines happens to have a fantastic safety record, with only two fatal crashes (including this flight) in it’s 25 year history.

As an example of the opposite, an incident was reported in which an Asiana 747 performed a go around, nearly missing a Southwest 737, that had been cleared onto an active runway.

This is just a public example of something Asiana pilots have done for the safety of their crew and passengers, and for the betterment of their airline name.

Did they do it for their airline or crew or passengers in that moment? I could argue “no”. But I would follow up by saying that this airline isn’t the Korean Airlines of yesterday, who had an incredibly terrible record. So bad that governments starting banning the airline from flying over or landing in their country because of their continued lack of safety.

Of course, Korean Airlines has since fixed those issues and stands as one of the most safe airlines.

Asiana isn’t an unsafe airline. They don’t even have a colored past. To say this airline’s procedures and training systems are perhaps unsafe or dangerous doesn’t stand up to the breadth of data.

The executives of Asiana weren’t on the flightdeck. Pilots were.

The Pilots Have Plenty of Experience

There have been a lot of news stories going around that say something to the affect of “Asiana Pilot was on a training flight” or “Pilot flying the Asiana 777 had little experience”.


The pilot has 43 hours on the 777, yes. Those are hours on the line, no doubt. He had already gone through an incredibly strict training process with full motion simulators and months of ground school. He would have known how to safely fly that aircraft all on his own- at least on paper.

What is glossed over is the fact that this pilot, Lee Gang Guk, had nearly 10,000 hours total. It’s argued that at 10,000 hours, you are an expert at your craft.

This guy had a LOT of flying experience. Yes, he didn’t have a lot of time in a 777. But this boils down to an issue not with the 777 specifically, but with what appears to be a CRM breakdown.

The 777 is an incredibly easy aircraft to fly, when compared to others. It has an incredible amount of automation, yet still gives the pilots full control. It’s design makes it setup to be pilot friendly- easy to interpret and understand, with a well through out layout. Again, the 777 has proven to be an incredibly safe airplane.

Another funny one. “Pilot was attempting his first Boeing 777 landing at San Francisco airport“. This pilot had landed thousands of times, why is the runway in San Francisco any different? It’s not. It’s a runway, much like all the other runways the pilot had landed at. The headline is terribly misleading.

But, at the end of the day, something terrible went awry. Whether that was a decision by the pilots, or a mechanical issue of some sort (unlikely), we will soon known what happened.

One Pilot is Not At Fault

One pilot is not at fault in this case. Lee Gang Guk was part of a crew. He wasn’t flying alone. All men in that cockpit (it appears that there were 4 crew in the cockpit, although only 2 are required to be there) are responsible for this incident.

The golden rule of CRM? If something is wrong, speak up. This aircraft got far too low, too soon. The airspeed completely depleted, and initiated a stall warning called a ‘stick shaker‘.

In other words, the crew had let the aircraft get in a state unbecoming of a final approach.

The first officer, with 43 hours, was flying the aircraft when it crashed. There was a Captain to his left, who had thousands of hours on the aircraft. There was also a Check Airman that was there as part of the monitoring and mentoring of the First Officer. He could have had even more time than the Captain. A Check Airman tends to be a senior position, held by some of the most experiences pilot.

For arguments sake, let’s rule out the 4th pilot, who was a relief pilot during the long flight. In other words, he flew the aircraft (more monitored) during cruise. Let’s assume he (the 2nd relief pilot) was even doing something different than monitoring (which he doesn’t have to do), like checking his iPhone. Because, after all, he wasn’t required to monitor- just not to be a distraction to the other crew.

That leaves 3 pilots- 2 were capable and in position to control the aircraft. One, the Check Airman, wasn’t in a position to take control, but he was in a position to say something.

And no one did.

The airspeed got far too low. By the time someone called airspeed it was 7 seconds before the aircraft impact. By the time go around was called, it was 1.5 seconds to impact.

The engines cannot respond and produce the thrust required to pull out in that amount of time. There is a lag from when the pilots apply that thrust, and when it actually takes place in the engines.

In other words, if this had been noticed even seconds earlier, there may have been a chance to get out.

But it wasn’t one pilot’s fault- it was the whole crew’s fault.

Here’s a question: If you had the knowledge and knew the aircraft was getting in a dangerous situation, would you speak up? If you could, would you take control of the airplane?

This is exactly what CRM calls for. And what the crew didn’t do, even though they were supposed to.

You Aren’t Any Better Than These Pilots

With all of these facts and things that are coming to light, it’s easy to feel like: “If I were in that situation, I wouldn’t have done that!”. Actually, I would argue that you aren’t any better than this collection of crew.

You and I, as hard as it is to admit, are steps away from killing our passengers and crew at all times. We are ALL susceptible to mistakes, even fatal ones.

No matter how great of a pilot you think you are, even the great pilots make mistakes. Granted, some pilots are just better at the craft, or more experiences, and make fewer mistakes. But an astounding amount of very skilled and experienced pilots make mistakes. Granted, fewer than the private pilot.

Keep in mind as well, that this was a 777. Not a 737, not a CRJ. This was a large, expensive, long-haul aircraft. These aircraft are usually the crowning jewel of a fleet, where the best trained and most experienced crews get the rare opportunity to fly the aircraft.

This was a highly talented, experienced, and special crew. Regardless of the mistake they made.

To think that we as individual pilots are somehow exempt from making mistakes is shortsighted. This mentality is dangerous.

It Shouldn’t Have Happened

All this said, this crew shouldn’t have let the aircraft get in the situation it was in. That’s the bottom line. They made an unfortunate chain of decisions, or mistakes, or lacked the observation necessary to complete the maneuver.

They are NOT bad pilots. They simply got caught up with the circumstances of the human condition- we make mistakes, we aren’t always right, and we fail.


There is still an ongoing investigation, and some things may come to light that will point to the aircraft, or the airport, or the controllers. Most are unlikely when compared to the body of evidence so far.

We will know these details very soon, as the aircraft is very much intact and will make the job on investigators a swift one.

We can only speak from our limited experience and knowledge gained as a result. Our analysis paints a simple picture- human factors and pilot error appear to be the cause.

But our results will reside with the people that know best, being the NTSB.


Thinking of this accident is quite sad. It’s so unfortunate that so many were injured, and several killed.

The study of Aviation Safety has taught us that in almost all cases humans were at fault.In other cases, humans performed miracles with the flying machines that brought their precious cargo back to earth.

One thing is for certain: we always learn something from each accident and incident. Those lives lost and changes are not in vain or forgotten.

Safety is reevaluated, communications are scrutinized to the word, and we always learn how to do it better next time.

We all learn to avoid that situation again in the future- to be more safe, more reliant.

As a result, we are seeing the best safety we’ve ever enjoyed in aviation safety. This remains a safe time to fly, travel, and pursue the passion of becoming a pilot.


Join the Conversation!
What do you think went wrong? What are your thoughts on this tragic event? How can we be better pilots?

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