Surviving Asiana 214 was no miracle

Jul. 13, 2013 @ 08:47 AM

Asiana Flight 214 crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport June 13, killing two people and injuring more than 180 other passengers.


More than 99 percent of the 307 people aboard that airplane survived the crash.

I am not alone among the people who are in awe of that statistic, which was years in the making by aircraft designers, pilots and the National Transportation Safety Board.

"Just two of the 307 people aboard Asiana Flight 214 died in the fiery wreck on the runway," wrote Susanna Schrobsdorff in Time magazine.

"But it's not divine luck. How pilots, crews and airports prepare for these rare but devastating crashes."

Schrobsdorff said there had not been a jumbo jet crash landing in the United States since 2001.

Engineers always point out that there is no such thing as an accident. At least one thing happens along the way to create a collision.

In San Francisco, pilot error may be to blame, but I will let the experts at the transportation board determine that. This is one federal agency that indeed saves lives.

Viewing photographs of that wreckage, I realize how horrifying that afternoon was.

But members of the flight crew kept their heads and calmly evacuated all but two passengers to safety.

I also tip my hat to the men and women who designed and built and maintained that aircraft.

"Thirty years of design improvements have made a huge difference in the ability to get everyone off the plane in less than two minutes," Larry Rooney told Time magazine.

Rooney, a veteran pilot and National Transportation Safety Board-trained accident investigator, is executive vice president of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Association.

Emergency crews also showed their training, which also was based on years of lessons learned in similar airplane crashes with a greater number of casualties.

Pilot training also saved lives.

Readers may remember Chesley Burnett "Sully" Sullenberger III, the pilot and safety expert who landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River on Jan. 15, 2009, with a loss of none of the 155 people aboard.

He correctly credited decades of aviation safety work by many people and agencies for that perfect landing.

For example, the aircraft remained afloat long enough for rescue crews to whisk away the passengers and crew members.

Sullenberger shared with CBS News his observations about the San Francisco airport.

"There are several things that make it unique," Sullenberger said.

"In fact, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) classified it as a special airport, along with other airports worldwide that involve mountainous terrain or other special challenges.

"It is surrounded by water, and of course water is a featureless terrain where depth perception can sometimes be difficult. There are shifting winds, low visibilities, so there are several things that make it special, plus high terrain just past it."

And yet pilots land dozens of planes carrying thousands of passengers at that airport each day without incident.

When the United States hockey team bested the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics, announcer Al Michaels asked, "Do you believe in miracles?"

I don't believe in miracles. I believe in hard work.

That 305 of the 307 people aboard survived the crash of Asiana Flight 214 was remarkable, but it was no miracle.

Over the decades, people built better planes, better airports, better emergency operations and better training of pilots and flight crews. Together, they made surviving such a crash survivable.

Thank God for all those wonderful people who worked to make that outcome possible.