Asiana Airlines penalized $500,000 over deadly crash

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Asiana Airlines penalized $500,000 over deadly crash
FILE - This Saturday, July 6, 2013 aerial file photo shows the wreckage of the Asiana Flight 214 airplane after it crashed at the San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco. Officials are looking into whether some attorneys may have violated a U.S. law barring uninvited solicitation of air disaster victims in the first 45 days after an accident in connection with the crash landing of Asiana Flight 214 in San Francisco. The National Transportation Safety Board says it has received an unspecified number of complaints about solicitations since the July 6 accident that killed three Chinese teenage girls and injured 180. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
FILE - This July 6, 2013, file photo, shows the wreckage of the Asiana Flight 214 airplane after it crashed at the San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco. The pilots of Asiana Flight 214, as well as the airline, are raising the possibility that a key device that controls the Boeing 777's speed may have malfunctioned, an aviation expert familiar with the investigation into the crash said Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
FILE - In this Saturday, July 6, 2013, file photo provided by passenger Benjamin Levy, passengers from Asiana Airlines flight 214 are treated by first responders on the tarmac just moments after the plane crashed at the San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco. Officials are looking into whether some attorneys may have violated a U.S. law barring uninvited solicitation of air disaster victims in the first 45 days after an accident in connection with the crash landing of Asiana Flight 214 in San Francisco. The National Transportation Safety Board says it has received an unspecified number of complaints about solicitations since the July 6 accident that killed three Chinese teenage girls and injured 180. (AP Photo/Benjamin Levy)
Two men take photographs of the rear of Asiana Flight 214, which crashed on Saturday, July 6, 2013, at San Francisco International Airport, in San Francisco, Friday, July 12, 2013. Two people were killed and dozens of others injured although most suffered minor injuries. Investigators have said the plane came in too low and slow. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
A man walks under a wing of Asiana Flight 214, which crashed on Saturday, July 6, 2013, at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Friday, July 12, 2013. Two people were killed and dozens of others injured although most suffered minor injuries. Investigators have said the plane came in too low and slow. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
A man walks near an engine of Asiana Flight 214, which crashed on Saturday, July 6, 2013, at San Francisco International Airport, in San Francisco, Friday, July 12, 2013. Two people were killed and dozens of others injured although most suffered minor injuries. Investigators have said the plane came in too low and slow. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
In a photograph taken through a fence, a man walks past wreckage of Asiana Flight 214, which crashed on Saturday, July 6, 2013, at San Francisco International Airport, in San Francisco, Friday, July 12, 2013. Two people were killed and dozens of others injured although most suffered minor injuries. Investigators have said the plane came in too low and slow. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
FOR USE AS DESIRED, YEAR END PHOTOS - FILE - This aerial photo shows the crash site of Asiana Flight 214 at the San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Saturday, July 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
The wreckage of Asiana Flight 214, which crashed on Saturday, July 6, 2013, is seen on a tarmac at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
The tail of Asiana Flight 214, which crashed on Saturday, July 6, 2013, is seen on a tarmac at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
In this image from video provided by ABC7 News/KGO-TV a section of the fuselage of Asiana Flight-214 is removed at San Francisco airport early Friday morning July 12, 2013. Workers began clearing the wreckage early Friday. The Asiana flight crashed upon landing Saturday, July 6, at San Francisco International Airport, and two of the 307 passengers aboard were killed. (AP Photo/ABC7 News/KGO-TV)
Tuesday's Asiana Flight 214 comes in for a landing over the wreckage of Saturday's Asiana Flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Saturday's Asiana Flight 214, crashed upon landing, two of the 307 passengers aboard were killed., (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Spectators look toward the wreckage of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 that crashed upon landing Saturday at San Francisco International Airport, Monday, July 8, 2013 in San Francisco. Investigators said the Boeing 777 was traveling "significantly below" the target speed during its approach and that the crew tried to abort the landing just before it smashed onto the runway on Saturday, July 6. Two of the 307 passengers aboard were killed. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
In this photo provided by the National Transportation Safety Board, on Tuesday, July 9, 2013, Investigator in Charge Bill English, foreground, and NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman discuss the progress of the investigation into the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in San Francisco. The Asiana flight crashed upon landing Saturday, July 6, at San Francisco International Airport, and two of the 307 passengers aboard were killed. (AP Photo/National Transportation Safety Board)
In this Saturday, July 6, 2013 aerial photo, emergency crews respond at the scene of the wreckage of Asiana Flight 214, top right, after it crashed at the San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, earlier in the day. The pilot at the controls of airliner had just 43 hours of flight time in the Boeing 777 and was landing one for the first time at San Francisco International. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
A fire truck sprays water on Asiana Flight 214 after it crashed at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday, July 6, 2013, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Planes from various airlines are docked at the terminals after Asiana Flight 214 crashed at the San Francisco International in San Francisco, Saturday, July 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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By JUSTIN PRITCHARD

LOS ANGELES (AP) - In the first penalty of its kind, federal transportation officials on Tuesday docked Asiana Airlines $500,000 for failing to promptly contact passengers' families and keep them informed about their loved ones after a deadly crash last year at San Francisco International airport.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said it took the South Korean airline five days to contact the families of all 291 passengers. In addition, a required crash hotline was initially routed to an automated reservations line.

Never before has the department concluded that an airline broke U.S. laws requiring prompt and generous assistance to the loved ones of crash victims.

Three people died and dozens were injured on July 6 when Asiana Flight 214 clipped a seawall while landing. One of the victims, a 16-year-old girl, apparently survived being ejected onto the tarmac, only to be run over by a fire truck in the post-crash confusion.

Many of the families live in South Korea or China, meaning the airline was their main source of information on the crash half a world away.

"The last thing families and passengers should have to worry about at such a stressful time is how to get information from their carrier," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a prepared statement.

Under a consent order the airline signed with the department, Asiana will pay a $400,000 fine and get a $100,000 credit for sponsoring industry-wide conferences and training sessions through 2015 to discuss lessons learned from the situation.

In a statement emailed to The Associated Press, Asiana spokeswoman Hyomin Lee said the airline "provided extensive support to the passengers and their families following the accident and will continue to do so."

Asiana said in the consent order that its response immediately after the crash was slowed because it occurred on a holiday weekend when staffing was short.

The airline also said it was not alone among foreign airlines with "few trained employees to attend to post-accident responsibilities," and it noted that it had assigned a special representative to each passenger and family within a few days of the crash; flown in family members from overseas; and provided professional crisis counseling through the Red Cross.

The consent order also laid out findings from the Department of Transportation's investigation. It said:

- Asiana generally "failed to commit sufficient resources to carry out its family assistance plan," and it wasn't until five days after the crash that its employees took over all of the carrier's responsibilities under U.S. law. In addition, the airline lacked translators and personnel trained in crash response.

- It took Asiana more than 18 hours to staff a reliable toll-free number for family members to call.

- The law requires family notification as soon as practical, but Asiana had contacted just three-quarters of families within two days.

In the late 1990s, after airlines were roundly criticized for ignoring desperate requests for information after crashes, Congress required carriers to dedicate significant resources to families of passengers.

Last fall, the AP reviewed plans filed by two dozen foreign airlines and found cases in which carriers had not updated their family assistance plans as required.

Since AP's story, several airlines have updated family assistance plans with the Department of Transportation. Among them is Asiana's bigger rival, Korean Air.

Many airlines invest in crash preparedness and family assistance planning, but a minority are "using lip service and euphemisms in their plans," said Robert A. Jensen, whose company has contracts with hundreds of airlines to help after an accident.

"It's time that some of the airlines that have been flying under the radar be held accountable," said Jensen, CEO of Kenyon International Emergency Services. "Somebody finally got caught."

The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the crash.

Family members of some passengers have sued the airline, alleging coach passengers suffered more serious injuries than business class travelers because of different seatbelt configurations.

Lawsuits also claim that Asiana failed to properly train its pilots and that the plane's auto-throttle was inadequate.

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