On July 6, Samsung Executive and Asiana Airlines passenger David Eun posted a photo via Twitter, saying "I just crash landed at SFO. Most everyone seems fine. I'm OK. Surreal..."
Within seconds, horrified witness reports were being posted and shared on Twitter and other social media, reporters online kicked into gear finding out info about the airline and the flight. About 20-30 minutes later, TV began reporting on the event, cautiously taking much of their information from the social media reports. This event, like many other recent events, demonstrates how breaking news now occurs in the age of ubiquitous camera phones and social media.
Kudos to an industry that until this past weekend had logged only one commercial fatality since 2001. Sadly, two young Chinese students perished in this crash and dozens of other passengers sustained injuries, some quite serious and potentially life-changing. Nevertheless, it was remarkable that so many people survived this crash. Among other observations, one theme on social media was "hug an engineer today" in appreciation for their contributions to improving air travel safety.
Safety Officer first and foremost
One of the noteworthy stories that emerged was that of Lee Yoon-hye, the flight attendant who was last off the plane. You can read a story of her initial reports of the evacuation. Despite the ordeal, she was so composed that reporters did not realize she had been on the plane, they thought she was stationed as airport staff. She proceeded to do a press conference (in Korean, but just click to marvel at her composure) and only later at the hospital did she realize she had broken her tailbone. (See also: Harrowing tales of rescue after crash of Asiana Flight 214.)
In pop culture over the years, the job of the flight attendant has often been portrayed as a glorified cocktail server -- and because flights are generally so safe, it's easy to forget what the main responsibilities of the flight attendant are: first and foremost, safety, and when required, emergency response. Attendants undergo rigorous safety training which includes emergency passenger evacuation management, use of evacuation slides/life rafts, in-flight firefighting, survival in the jungle, sea, desert, ice, first aid, CPR, defibrillation, ditching/emergency landing procedures, decompression emergencies, Crew Resource Management and security. They are also often required to speak several languages because they have to communicate with international travelers.
Lessons to be learned
The National Transportation Safety Board was on the scene very quickly, beginning a thorough investigation and analysis of exactly what happened and why. This is expected to take some time, although happily enough, NTSB has an advantage in the number of on-the-scene witnesses and staff. All too often they are piecing fragments together and the staff reports are from a recovered black box. You can watch the NTSB's most recent public report from Wednesday.
The evacuation standard for getting off a plane in an emergency is within 90 seconds - something that seems incredible if you stop and think how long it can take to deplane under normal circumstances, never mind in the midst of chaos and turmoil in a crash scene and fire. The recent NTSB reports are now saying that the orders to evacuate didn't come until 90 seconds after landing - the pilots originally told passengers to stay in their seats. Perhaps pilots may have been waiting for rescue vehicles to get to the plane, it's unclear. But when fire was spotted 90 seconds in, evacuation ensued. It's easy to second guess decisions but it is up to the NTSB to gather more facts and determine what happened.
Lee's exceptional safety training kicked in to gear on that Saturday crash and she saved lives. Think of her next time you shrug off the safety drill at the start of your next flight. More importantly, think of your organization's emergency response plan. How ready would your organization be should an unexpected event occur. Could you evacuate the premises in 90 seconds or less? Do you have an assigned emergency response team or assigned safety staff? Fred Hosier offers 7 safety lessons any workers can take from SF plane crash at Safety News Alert - a excellent rundown of take-aways for any employer in any industry. As the NTSB report progresses, there will no doubt be other lessons in safety, planning, and emergency response - lessons for both for the airline industry and other businesses a well.
See also: Emergency Response Plans & Resources for Businesses