SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Boeing 777 that crash landed at San Francisco International on Saturday represents a workhorse of the airline industry that has enjoyed a stellar reputation among pilots for safety.
"It could very easily have the safest record for that size of aircraft," said Robert Herbst, a retired American Airlines 767 pilot and aviation industry consultant in South Carolina.
The Boeing 777 was put into service in 1995 and had not experienced a fatality until Saturday, according to AirSafe.com, which tracks crashes and airline industry safety.
The last serious incident involving a 777 occurred on Jan. 17, 2008, when a British Airways 777 arriving from Beijing touched down about 1,000 feet short of runway 27L at London's Heathrow Airport, skidded more than 1,000 feet and sheared off its landing gear, according to AirSafe.com.
The images of Saturday's Boeing 777 wreckage suggested a similar explanation of what caused the Asiana Airlines 777 to crash as it tried to touch down at SFO's Runway 28L, Herbst said.
"This is very obvious what happened," said Herbst, who flew commercial airliners for 41 years before retiring three years ago. "They landed short of the runway. They were too low for the flight path and the tail of the aircraft hit the sea wall."
When approaching SFO, Herbst said, "the nose is pretty high up in the air just before touchdown. They weren't high enough and the tail hit the sea wall. This is a no-brainer."
Jet fuel in the wings of the 777 then likely caught fire, Herbst said.
The 777 was operated by Asiana Airlines, South Korea's second-largest airline behind Korean Air. Asiana Airlines flies Boeing's twin-engine B777-200ER model, which can carry up to 300 people, according to the company's website. The airline said it can fly the 777-200ER for 14 hours nonstop between Seoul and Honolulu, Seattle and Europe.
Asiana has been trying to expand its presence in the United States and joined the Oneworld alliance, anchored by American Airlines and British Airways, according to the Associated Press.
The last time a major U.S. airline lost a plane in a fatal crash was an American Airlines Airbus A300 taking off from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in November 2001. All 260 people on board Flight 587 en route to the Dominican Republic were killed, along with five on the ground. The plane crashed into a Queens neighborhood. Investigators attributed the crash to pilot error.