Asiana 214 Crashes at SFO, and the Airport Remains a Mess

By now we’ve all heard that Asiana flight 214 from Seoul/Incheon crashed at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on Saturday. Anyone who bothered to flip on any of the cable news networks has by now had their fill of awful misinformation and irresponsible speculation. For that reason, I’ve decided to stick with my theory that the Loch Ness Monster, on summer vacation, stuck his head up out of the bay and accidentally knocked the airplane around. If that’s not what happened, then I’ll gladly wait for the investigators to prove me wrong.

Asiana 214

Of course, there are some things we know. The airplane was landing at SFO on runway 28L with good visibility. That runway backs up into the bay, and the debris trail starts right at the seawall. So it definitely landed too early, and the rocky wall wasn’t exactly helpful for a smooth recovery. Eventually, the airplane ended up a few hundred yards down the runway just to the south, as you can see in the crude map above.

Happily, everyone was able to get out of the airplane, though two people were found dead on the ground. As terrible at that is, this could have been a LOT worse. As of now, that’s really all we know about the accident, though more info is creeping out hour by hour. I think it’s safe to say that others may be happy to speculate on why this happened, but I’ll leave it at that. We simply don’t know.

But there is one thing we do know. SFO was a friggin’ mess this holiday weekend. When the accident happened on Saturday, the airport was closed for several hours. Airplanes diverted all over the place. Lufthansa sent its A380 to Oakland. Emirates had its 777 land in Seattle. And Air New Zealand brought its 747 to LAX. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Plenty of other flights were canceled all over the place.

When they did finally open the airport, they had only the two runways perpendicular to the crash site open for departures and arrivals. Usually those runways are used for most departures while arrivals come in on the other runways. The result was that capacity was squeezed incredibly tight. The flights that did land at the airport were lucky to get in.

For many travelers, the best bet was to go to an alternate airport. But there weren’t exactly a lot of seats to be found anywhere. Naturally, airlines started to use bigger airplanes and add extra flights when possible. United with its SFO hub saw the biggest impact. Yesterday from LAX, United had 2 747s, a 777, and a 767-400 scheduled to help get people up to SFO. But delays were still massive. Earlier in the day, FAA showed average delays of around 9 hours. That was decreased to a mere 5 hours by noon. American saw that and put together a different plan – it sent a 767 from LA to San Jose to get people into the vicinity without the delay. But American had far fewer stranded travelers than did United. It appears United did the best it could during an incredibly trying situation.

As you could see by my map, the Asiana flight tried to land on runway 28L, and it veered to the left after landing. That meant that runway 28R to the north saw little impact but it still was kept closed for about 24 hours because of its proximity to the accident location. By midday yesterday, however, runway 28R was opened up and that helped increase the arrival rate to what SFO generally can handle on a normal foggy day. Anyone flown into SFO when the fog rolls in? Yeah, exactly. The airport is still a mess but the average FAA delay dropped immediately to about 1.5 hours. That’s at least manageable. And hey, if the fog rolls in, it shouldn’t have a further impact on the arrival rate.

At this point, the airport should be able to limp along with its usual foggy weather-style operations until the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) can conclude its investigation and get runway 28L cleared out. The NTSB says it’s working as fast as it can. If you’re traveling to or from SFO in the near future, just keep that in mind. If you have a long layover, you should be very happy. If not, you might be sweating a little.

As of yesterday, United had put out a waiver for travel through today. Changes could be made without penalty. If the runway doesn’t open soon, that waiver may be extended. You can see the most current waiver policy here. If the waiver is in place and you’re connecting at SFO, I would highly recommend either taking a later connecting flight or looking for an alternate connecting airport if you can.

Now we just wait until we know what exactly happened on this airplane. Why did it land too early? Was it pilot error, cultural issues, training deficiencies, ATC mistake, procedural problems, mechanical failure, automation problems, random wind gusts, Nessie? It’s usually a combination of multiple factors, but we’ll find out when the investigation is complete.

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43 Comments on "Asiana 214 Crashes at SFO, and the Airport Remains a Mess"

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Neil S
Guest

I was in Montreal for the weekend, and the hotel only had CNN – watching their coverage was appalling, but it was the only coverage I could get.

Here’s hoping SFO gets back to normal quickly and everyone can be on their way.

matt weber
Member

Don’t you know anything about Aviation?. It obviously wasn’t batted down from below, it was forced down from above by the downdraft from Mothra overhead.

MeanMeosh
Guest

I’m going with some unexpectedly severe Godzilla-related turbulence.

chinger
Guest

I think we can all agree that the cause of the crash was clearly ghost aliens

BJ
Guest

I saw an early interview with a former head of the NTSB (sorry forgot his name). I was very impressed that he didnt try to big note himself and didnt make any guesses to what may have happened.

aerodawg
Guest

The crash video that has come out is pretty amazing. A bird that big nearly cartwheeling is a sight. It’s definitely a testament to modern aircraft design (and a little luck) that only 2 people died….

Todd
Guest

Moreoever, early reports indicate that one of the fatalities may have been caused by the victim being run over by a firetruck racing toward the plane (i.e., the fatality may not have been caused not by the crash itself).

Patrice B
Guest

Even under optimal circumstances one plays Russian roulette at SFO with ontime performance.
Nice city, but unreliable airports which puts it near the top of my global “avoid” list for connections.

davidp627
Member

I have heard that the pilot only had about 40 hours of flight time on a 777 and had never landed at SFO. I guess there is a chance that a mechanical issue was to blame, but all indications point to pilot error.

Is it normal to be the chief pilot on a large, long-haul flight with minimal experience with the airplane, and never having landed at a challenging airport?

Ben G
Guest
That is some inaccurate and misleading information that you are working with. He reportedly had 40-ish hours experience ON TYPE, but nearly 10,000 overall, mostly on the 747. It was his first 777 landing at SFO but not his first landing ever there. Also unless the information has changed, he was the first officer, not the captain. Also, SFO in the weather conditions that were present at the time of the crash is not what I would call a challenging airport to land at. It is also worth noting that Jeffery Skiles, the F/O and pilot flying on US1549 (The… Read more »
BigD
Guest

Poor people the next few weeks.

SFO has for ages been near the bottom of DOT ontime rankings. This will create only a bigger mess.

But I learned the hard way many years ago after one too many connection mishaps. Simply avoid SFO. I much prefer LAX on the west coast. Might not be the prettiest airport, but it works much more efficiently.

Gary
Guest

Kudos to Cranky for not joining in with the absurd speculation and “gotcha” questions of the media. The NTSB will do its thing and its Chairman Deborah Hersman is performing an admirable job of deflecting the attempts to get her to “make news” before all the facts are in.

jaybru
Member
Can we all here say whenever there is an aircraft accident, the amount of misinformation put out over the airwaves will be enormous. And, worse, when the accident occurs on a weekend or at sometime other than during primetime and the “B” teams are manning the controls, the misinformation will be even worse. And then, when the visuals are just terffic, someone decides to cover half the screen with “crawls” either hyping the words “BREAKING NEWS” or something else that most of us here know is patently incorrect! Then we scoff at some eyewitness saying they saw the plane “cartwheel”… Read more »
Robert Trader
Guest

I love the FOX news anchorwoman saying the pilots were very experienced. They both had 10,000 miles !!!

David SF eastbay
Member
Driving around Saturday morning I was seeing airplanes (some large) lining up over my city to land at OAK and thought why were they doing that. All these airlines couldn’t have had summer charters arriving at OAK all at the same time, I had not heard about the crash at that time. You though the cable stations were bad, every local station here was live all trying to put out info that wasn’t available, but as live TV tends to do, they just repeat repeat repeat until they can get an ‘expert’ on live TV to tell everyone what happen… Read more »
jaybru
Member
Some amazing things we’re probably going to learn as a result of this crash landing and how it will affect you: 1. It is quite common for pilots to make “first” landings into each airport on each type of aircraft they command. [“Have you ever landed at this airport with this type of aircraft before?” If the anwser is “no,” would it be better you knew that fact, before takeoff, enroute, or not at all?] 2. Not every pilot has truly read and understood every NOTAM that applies, or could apply to their particular flight before they left the origin… Read more »
jboekhoud
Member

Except that the probably won’t affect you. From the CBC’s coverage today:

“Arnold Barnett, a professor of statistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies commercial flight safety, told the New York Times that a person could fly every day for an average of 123,000 years before being in a fatal crash.”

These amazing things of yours are just scaremongering!

jaybru
Member

For me, on a trip involving air travel, the order of difficulty is:

1. the start, going down the stairs in my house I’ve been in for more than 40 years and with luggage in hand not suffering a life-changing fall, (didn’t make the nightly news but not insignificant, to say the least,

2. getting to my car,

3. driving to the airport,

4. taking the parking lot shuttle to the terminal,

5. the flight (“piece of cake,” so far, of course!), and then

6. all the risks of “at destination” and the return, from the airport back to home.

Frankly, I rather be flying!

Nick Barnard
Member

Geez, I’m amazed that no one is paying attention to Google.. Its the 66th anniversary of the Roswell Crash, the aliens of course tried again and got their target this time…

Time for an NTSB coverup: The Truth is Out There

mandel.jerry1
Member

The start of the runway is way too close to the seawall.

DaveS
Guest

You’ll notice in photos that there is a displaced threshold at the 28L approach (the arrows before the start of the runway). That improvement along with declared distances now gives the runway a proper safety area and allows airplanes to overfly the seawall slightly higher than before. Unfortunately, the seawall wasn’t built with the assumption that a plane would come in way low and strike it.

chuck2741
Member

I have landed at SFO more than 100 times. RW 28 L&R are both the long runways
for heavies 380/747/777 fully loaded. A plane can land 200 ft from the sea wall
and still have a very long runway in front. I heard on some news program that the
glide path program was not running that day?? It would appear that this pilot
just miscalculated his approach.

jboekhoud
Member

The glide slope system for that runway is offline for most of the summer for maintenance it seems.

David
Guest
CF – you are clearly talking absolutely rubbish and you should know better. There is almost no way that the Loch Ness monster could possibly have made the journey to San Francisco. Loch Ness is freshwater, not saltwater – thus the monster would have to be adapted to both types of water. Loch Ness is pretty damn cold. To travel to California, the monster would have to travel via much warmer waters. It’s almost certain that the Loch Ness monster would not be able to withstand the range of temperature, from a cold Loch, to the warm Caribbean / equatorial… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

David, you missed that the Loch Ness could travel via the northern route over the north pole under the ice plates.

Plus there are many species that can live in fresh water and sea water.

That being said, I’m sticking to my guns and stating that a UFO did it.

David
Guest
As a reptile, the monster is cold blooded and relies on the sun to warm itself up each day. Not only would it almost certainly be unable to survive the bitterly cold northern Arctic waters for days on end, but by travelling under the ice it would lose access to the warming rays of the sun, rendering its muscles too cold to let it do any kind of swimming. Separate point I forgot – reptiles tend not to have gills and need to surface regularly to breathe. If Nessie travelled via the Panama canal it would be spotted. If it… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

I’ve met Nessie, she most definitely stated she can swim underwater for days at a time.

She also said her favorite meal is aluminum, it goes well with the mercury in her stomach.

Bernard
Guest

It’s amazing anyone got out alive after seeing those awful pictures of the fire damage. What could have caused such extensive fires? Was there fire suppression aboard? Even if the cause of the crash was pilot error, where was the other pilot, or copilot? Asleep? In the head? There should be about a thousand improvements that come out of this incident, all for the good of the flying public (I hope).

And thank you, Cranky, for waiting for official results instead of guessing, like the armchair experts who seem to know everything about everything.

Nick Barnard
Member

From that has come out it appears that things worked as they should, with the exception of the passengers carrying out luggage…

Oliver
Guest

Indeed, Nick… that’s very disconcerting. There were reports of people going or trying to go back to retrieve their luggage. Are they nuts? Disoriented?

yo
Guest
I was driving back to PHX and heard KFI, the host was “outraged” that the copilot (First Officer) had the audacity to land the plane! I am constantly amazed at how little the general public knows about the industry. And this whole 43 hours on the 777 baloney…they don’t seem to understand the thousands of hours on the 747, and numerous landings at SFO. Evidently the ignorant public wants every new FO or Captain to fly empty planes several hundreds of times to get experience, and to land and take off at every airport the airline serves. Don’t EVEN get… Read more »
Andrew mondt
Member

I was supposed to fly SFO-MDW today. However WN let me rebook for tomorrow out of SJC via LAX without penalty. I had to call twice. The first CSR told me I couldn’t rebook. However the website said I could. I called back and got an agent that knew what she was doing and gladly rebooked me.

hsano
Member
My family was indirectly affected by the events on Saturday. Luckily, it was more logistical and no injuries or casualties were involved. My 14-year old nephew was flying on United from BOS-SFO-NRT with the People to People ambassador program (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People_to_People_Student_Ambassador_Program). This group of 45 junior-high students and four chaperones were connecting through SFO Saturday afternoon. There were many hours of uncertainty while the airport was shutdown. I felt a little helpless in LA, as I was too far to help. My sister was in Boston, frantically trying to figure out if her son was OK. Brett, you can appreciate the… Read more »
David
Guest

I saw two UA heavies (747 and 777) at PDX when I landed there, right on the day of the crash. They apparently came from FRA and LHR. I thought it was pretty cool, since the only widebodies we usually get are the 767 and A330.

Global Nomad couple
Guest

Perhaps some managed to smuggle some toothpaste or drinking water on board. Based on how security reacts to that stuff, they must be one of the most dangerous substances on earth.

John U.
Guest
Side note: My cousin got diverted to Oakland around this time BUT he had already prepaid for a rental car in San Francisco. He had to take a bus or Bart back to SFO to get the car b/c it would have been forfeited (my guess is that if alot of flights were diverted to Oakland, there also may not have been alot of rental cars left there) and then he got stuck in rush hour traffic… I don’t know what rental car company this was – there are only a few big ones left. Is that a standard rental… Read more »
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