How could the world’s safest plane, flown by one of the finest airlines, crash on a perfect summer’s day?
And how could so many passengers just walk away from such a disaster?
Till yesterday the Boeing 777 boasted an extraordinary record of no fatalities and only two hull losses in 18 years of airline service while in recent years Asiana Airlines has emerged as one of a new breed of airlines winning accolades for seven-star service and operations.
Landing the high tech 777 at San Francisco in fine weather should hold no fears for an experienced airline crew.
Crash investigators will zero in on the plane’s two black boxes, which have been recovered, as well as interviews with the pilots and should quickly establish the cause.
Initial focus will be on the plane’s instrument settings to try and understand why it was high on the approach glide slope.
And if, as has been suggested, the 777 was also unstable on the approach why didn’t the pilots abort?
The crash has similarities to the previous operational loss of a 777 in 2008.
In that incident a British Airways 777 landed short of a runway at London’s Heathrow Airport after its engines rolled back to idle due to a fuel blockage caused by ice.
The 777, also on a flight from Shanghai, came to rest on grass 300m short of the runway.
And all 156 passengers and crew walked away thanks to more rigorous seat construction.
And the same new standards are being credited with saving hundreds of lives in the Asiana 777 crash.
The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and the European agencies introduced much stricter crash impact standards for seats in 1988 from 9 to 16G.
It was found that many passengers killed in plane crashes died after being struck by seats that had ripped away from their mountings and catapulted through the cabin.
However initially only planes designed after 1988 had to comply with the new regulations but since 2009 all planes built must have the 16G seats.
Interestingly the 16G force was selected because the human body cannot survive a greater force.