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Asiana Airlines penalized $500,000 over deadly crash

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.

Join the discussion

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JedEyeMaster February 25 2014 at 5:23 PM

I never knew the airlines was solely responsible for keeping track of the passengers, especially after a crash, and then having to contact family/next of kin. How would they know ? Is there now mandatory flying insurance/notification info that must be completed ? Anyway, the $500,000 fine is going to be a drop in the bucket compared to operational negligence lawsuits for those who lost their life and medical expenses for the injured. Hate to hear about plane crashes, for whatever reason.

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1 reply
vtmilitia JedEyeMaster February 25 2014 at 5:29 PM

Gotta knock the deficit down some way. Look at the fines handed out to banks and Wall Street.

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1 reply
fernand755 vtmilitia February 25 2014 at 5:48 PM

The banks fines...they weren't high enough

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George VanWinkle February 25 2014 at 4:18 PM

Seriously? $500k is a drop in the bucket. What about a MUCH larger fine for putting untrained incompetent pilots in the cockpit of that plane? I'm thinking in the hundreds of millions of dollars range, with a huge 99% chunk of that going to the families of the 3 dead and the other 288 on that plane.

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2 replies
cdjcn George VanWinkle February 25 2014 at 4:30 PM

After the plane came to rest, two of the inflatable chutes expanded into the cabin rather than outwards. The first chute, which blocked the forward right exit, nearly suffocated a flight attendant and was deflated by a pilot with a fire axe from the cockpit. The second chute expanded toward the center of the aircraft near the fire. It trapped a second flight attendant until a co-pilot deflated it with a dinner knife.

3 passengers who exited the plane from the rear & made it out of the plane unharmed were then run over by a fire truck.

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petehermes George VanWinkle February 25 2014 at 6:57 PM

The fine has nothing whatsoever to do with liability on the part of Asiana or any other culpable party related to the mishap itself. The $500K fine was levied against Asiana for violating DOT rules pertaining to notification of families and lapses the airline had with respect to their responsibility for keeping those families informed.

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FRED February 26 2014 at 5:44 AM

So the feds get their cut, what a surprise. And how will that help make flying safer? Put the fear of a fine from the US, that will get them.

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Gregory February 25 2014 at 4:26 PM

Accident was preventable. You don't do pilot training on a scheduled flight with passengers. That's what flight sims of type are for.

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1 reply
SageEdit Gregory February 25 2014 at 5:14 PM

Hmm, I understood that this was the copilot’s first flight into this airport; they all have to make that first flight sometime, no? I have forgotten the details from July.

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term2 February 25 2014 at 4:29 PM

Agencies shouldnt be allowed to keep the money from "fines". If there is going to be a fine, it should go to the victims, not some useless bureaucracy to fatten their salaries and benefits.

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1 reply
larrpull term2 February 25 2014 at 4:47 PM

In the 2000 down turn I lost $300,000 to Merrill Lynch's bad management of my retirement fund. They paid a 1 billion dollar fine and it all went to the bureaucrats. I never got one dime of it.

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LL February 25 2014 at 4:29 PM

The GREATER issue is the actual cause of this crash, and it's been reported that Asians, and especially Koreans, follow a social protocol that does not allow them to question their authority, be it elders or senior officers on a flight - and I can't help but wonder what Asian airlines world-wide, are doing about this kind of INSANITY ?....

The ONLY way to help them change this kind of bizzare cultural "program" is for as many of us flyers as possible, to shun flying with them, until guarnteed assurances are made that this protocol has changed, and this with the heavy bat of santions from the regualtors and multi-million doallar lawsuits that would result from any further ding-bat practices like this !!!

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1 reply
Rob LL February 25 2014 at 5:21 PM

Gail you must have never had a chance to fly a asian airline because let me tell you every CEO of a american based airline should fly one because then would would understand what customer focus is. I flew 3 times to the Philippines last year and let me tell you from experiance it's what I imagine flying was 20 years ago in America when you got a nice large comfy seat with plenty of leg room a decent meal a pillow and a blanket. I'm 6-3 and the leg room is a big deal to me and even on a domastic flight you get a large plane no bag fees and a hot meal.

Bob in PA

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landrewq February 25 2014 at 8:03 PM

Unfortunately, the autopilot is apparently used too much on many air carriers and this was an incident where that came to light if nothing else. I agree that if you're carrying 200 people, I would view that as a supreme responsibility and everything that entails. The reliance these pilots had on the onboard electronics for this landing should be thought of as criminal whether the plane crashed or not.

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mitch6291 February 25 2014 at 4:37 PM

500,000 big deal that is about the cost of a tank of fuel make a real fine.

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sueat103 February 25 2014 at 4:38 PM

That is chump change considering the offenses...

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wmgreg February 25 2014 at 6:17 PM

A question might be why did the passenger area burn so well, when the wings with fuel in them and the engines that were hot did not burn much?

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