Asiana Airlines fined $500K for crash response

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has fined Asiana Airlines $500,000 for failing to properly assist relatives of victims of its 2013 plane crash at the San Francisco International Airport, the agency announced on Tuesday. 

The transportation department said Asiana failed to provide a toll-free number for relatives of passengers who were on its plane that crash landed last July to call and took as long as five days to contact them with updates on their family members. 

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said foreign airlines were held to the same standards for responding to major airplane crashes as U.S. companies. 

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“In the very rare event of a crash, airlines have a responsibility to provide their full support to help passengers and their families by following all the elements of their family assistance plans,” Foxx said in a statement. “The last thing families and passengers should have to worry about at such a stressful time is how to get information from their carrier.  

"At DOT, we are committed to protecting consumers and their families when they travel and will continue to take enforcement action when federal statutes are violated.”

The Transportation Department said its fine of Asiana was the first time it levied penalties under the Foreign Air Carrier Family Support Act of 1997.

The agency said the 1997 law "requires that foreign air carriers assure the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Transportation Safety Board that they will provide various services to passengers and their families by adhering to a 'family assistance plan' in the event of aircraft accidents resulting in a major loss of life.

"Foreign air carriers must, among other requirements, publicize and staff a reliable, toll-free telephone number to take calls from families of passengers involved in an aircraft accident; notify the families of passengers involved in an aircraft accident as soon as practicable after the foreign air carrier has verified the identity of a passenger on the foreign aircraft, whether or not the names of all of the passengers have been verified; and commit sufficient resources to carry out the family assistance plan," the department said.

The alleged violations of the post-airplane accident rules occurred when Asiana's flight 214 crashed at San Francisco International Airport in July 2013 at the conclusion of a a 10-hour flight from Seoul, South Korea.

The company's Boeing 777 airplane was carrying more than 300 people; the accident resulted in the deaths of two passengers and more than 180 injuries.

The National Transportation Safety Board suggested as it was beginning its investigation of the crash that pilot error was a likely cause.

The accident investigation agency said the Asiana flight was traveling 106 knots, or nautical miles per hour, approaching the San Francisco airport when it should have been traveling at a speed closer to 137 knots.