Asiana Airlines Flight 214 – A Cabin Crew Perspective

On July 6th, 2013, Asiana flight 214 from Incheon to San Francisco, a Boeing 777-200ER hit the airport’s sea wall on approach for landing. The aircraft cartwheeled and caught fire before being evacuated by the cabin crew – amazingly, of the 291 passengers, only 3 passengers died and 181 were injured of which 18 were in critical condition.

It is lucky there were so many survivors in what was a truly catastrophic accident. Although casualties are inevitable, the success of the evacuation truly relied on the courage and determination of the Asiana cabin crew. What can we learn from them?

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Incapacitated crew

The aircraft had 16 crew members working onboard – luckily not the bare minimum. Most airline safety and emergency procedures are based on a full crew complement without incapacitated crew members. In this dreadful accident, 3 crew members were ejected from the tail of the aircraft on impact and 2 crew members were trapped by slides that had inflated inside the aircraft cabin. Almost a third of the entire crew were badly injured. So, the logistics for the remaining crew must have been extremely difficult.

The evacuation

Firstly, on a practical level they would have been tired and jet-lagged after the 12-hour flight and possibly somewhat disorientated. They initiated the evacuation, as is the crew member’s responsibility if they see that the emergency is catastrophic (fire, landing on water, or aircraft broken into pieces).


The aircraft was on fire in two places and some of the overhead lockers had collapsed, trapping passengers and strewing luggage around the cabin. The crew fought the fires onboard and evacuated the aircraft as per their procedures, then proceeded to crawl back onto the aircraft to cut passengers out of their seats who had become trapped. There are also accounts of the elderly and young children being carried to the slides and sometimes even off the aircraft by the cabin crew, who returned numerous times to save as many people as they could.

The cabin crew initiated the evacuation as the situation was catastrophic. Photo: Getty Images

Just part of the job

The last crew member to leave the aircraft was the SCCM (Senior Cabin Crew Member) who left just as the roof finally collapsed from the fire damage. She said that she was just doing her job – it’s true that is what cabin crew are trained for, but for the crew to have such courage, conviction and dignity amid this crisis is something heroic.


Most cabin crew would not use that word and agree that is what they are there for, but surely any passenger who was carried off the aircraft by a crew member would say otherwise. These cabin crew were dedicated to their job and followed their training to maximize passenger survival.

Reality

The reality is that that is what cabin crew really train for – all the things that could possibly go wrong. The passenger may only see us at the aircraft door briefly or handing them a meal tray or serving them tea and coffee, and that is the only perspective they have of what we do. They do not see the things we prepare for at training school – evacuation on land and water in 90 seconds, survival skills, medical emergencies, hijack scenarios and fire fighting … amongst other things.

The bravery and determination of these cabin crew was incredible. Photo: Kim-Hong-Ji-Pool / Getty Images

Most flyers underestimate the skills of cabin crew, and it is a sad fact that, even in this case, the Asiana cabin crew’s dedication, skill and bravery went relatively unnoticed at first – except by the cabin crew community and one or two news reports. It is ironic that more praise was given to the airport teams for responding so quickly, yet it was truly the cabin crew who were saving passengers lives first.

Bravery

These individuals were brave, confident and determined and the cabin crew community will always be proud of them, what they did and what they represented. No matter what airline, what country or what aircraft you work on, we are all on the same team with the same goals. All cabin crew around the world will be forever proud and humbled by what these incredible crew members did on this dreadful day.

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