Deadly Plane Crash at San Francisco Airport

By Kim Smiley

On July 6, 2013, Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crashed while attempting to land at the San Francisco International Airport. Three people have died as a result of the crash and around 180 others were injured, 13 critically. The cause of the crash is currently under investigation, but there were no obvious mechanical issues and the weather was near perfect.

Even though the investigation is still in its infancy, an initial Cause Map can be built to document what is known now about the accident and it can easily be expanded later as more information becomes available. A Cause Map is a visual format for performing a root cause analysis that intuitively lays out the different causes for an accident. The first step in the Cause Mapping process is to fill in an Outline with the basic background information for an issue. On the bottom half of the Outline there is space to document how the problem impacts the overall goals. This is useful because it helps everyone involved in the process understand the big picture and the issues with the more significant impacts can be prioritized first.

There is also space on the Outline to list anything that was different or unusual at the time the problem occurred. It’s important to note any differences because they are usually worth exploring during an investigation because they may have played a role in the accident. In this specific example, this was the first time the pilots had worked together and the two main pilots were both in unfamiliar roles. The pilot landing the plane had limited experience with Boeing 777s even though he was an experienced pilot and this was his first time landing this type of aircraft at the San Francisco airport. There was another pilot instructing him, but it was his first flight as an instructor.

Once the Outline is completed, the next step is to ask “why” question and add the answers to the Cause Map. In this example, we know that the airplane was coming in too low and too slow to land safely, but it isn’t known why that happened. The NTSB has initiated an investigation and the results will reported when the analysis is complete. Some of the early speculation is that there may have been an equipment failure, mismanagement of automated systems or ineffective communication in the cockpit. The fact that this crew was different than the typical staffing has been a focus of investigators, but it isn’t known what role they may have played in the crash.

Another piece of this puzzle is that one of the passengers who died at the crash scene appears to have been killed when she was run over by a fire engine. She was covered in foam on the ground and the firefighters were unaware of her location. Emergency response procedures will need to be reviewed as part of the investigation into this accident to ensure that first responders can do their jobs in the safest way possible.

To view an initial Cause Map of this issue, click on “Download PDF” above.