Asiana Airlines Hoax

asiana-flight-crew-names-hoax-video The July 6, 2013 Asiana Airline Flight 241 en route from Seoul, South Korea crashed landed in San Francisco, CA.  It was the worst major U.S. aviation disaster since 2009.

In its aftermath, a news anchor for Oakland’s KTVU fell victim to an age-old, tasteless prank.

Of course, this was just an incredibly shallow, but ultimately successful practical joke.  I doubt too much thought or deliberation went into it.  But let us examine the red flag concern:

*  Nobody caught it before it aired

You’re probably asking yourself, “How could nobody have caught it?  Was everyone working on this news package a stoic, seemingly mesmerized zombie?”  Well, perhaps.  But here’s what’s odd.  This prank went undetected, not only by the anchorwoman, but also by individuals in multiple departments (including assignment editors, producers, graphics, editors and directors).  Real human beings spoke these fictitious names and wrote them as well.  And here’s what’s really scary.  The phony names were then verified through a government agency.  The NTSB blamed the mishap on a “summer intern,” but their apology speaks for itself.

NTSB statement on erroneous confirmation of crew names

July 12, 2013

The National Transportation Safety Board apologizes for inaccurate and offensive names that were mistakenly confirmed as those of the pilots of Asiana flight 214, which crashed at San Francisco International Airport on July 6.

Earlier today, in response to an inquiry from a media outlet, a summer intern acted outside the scope of his authority when he erroneously confirmed the names of the flight crew on the aircraft.

The NTSB does not release or confirm the names of crew members or people involved in transportation accidents to the media. We work hard to ensure that only appropriate factual information regarding an investigation is released and deeply regret today’s incident.

Appropriate actions will be taken to ensure that such a serious error is not repeated.

Office of Public Affairs

490 L’Enfant Plaza, SW

Washington, DC 20594

(202) 314-6100

Kelly Nantel

Just an aside – isn’t it peculiar that an anonymous, summer intern could function as the NTSB’s liaison for the worst nationwide aviation disaster in the last 4 years?

The Asiana Airlines prank should evoke great concern for two reasons:

A.  The scale and magnitude of the story

Major U.S. airline crashes always qualify as breaking news.  All the factual information is already in the public domain.  Accompanying details should be easily vetted.  Falling prey to this type of “low-brow” hoax is a bad omen.  It speaks directly to the inability of trained professionals and their ability to discern fact from fiction.

If a major city’s network affiliate could be duped…  If the National Transportation Safety Board could provide erroneous information…  Now remember, this singular incident likely originated with one individual and then spun out of control.  But what would happen if something much bigger transpired which had real-world consequences?  What could happen if someone was dedicated to carrying out a prank with an extreme degree of “malicious intent?”  What happens when thousands upon thousands of targeted hoax threats make it through the system at large?

B.  It speaks to the “finish first at any cost” mentality currently pervading the news industry

It’s always about being first.  First to break the story.  First on twitter.  First to be heard.  First to be noticed.  This incessant compulsion to “make” or “break” the news, rather than “report” the news is a very dangerous precedent.  How many times have we witnessed the media get it wrong?  And they’re often huge stories, not just the material you’d find buried somewhere in the lifestyle section:

  • Gore beats Bush
  • Supreme Court overturns Obamacare
  • Congresswoman Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) pronounced dead

With the normalization of the 24/7 breaking news cycle, we’ve come a long way since Dewey defeated Truman.

Harry TrumanThis leads us to another question.  Has the United States ever experienced a widespread cellular hoax that could have had dire ramifications and placed innocent lives in jeopardy?  The answer might surprise you.  The 2011 “Civil Emergency: Take Shelter Now” text message was disseminated through three counties in heavily populated, central New Jersey.

civil emergencyAside from the confusion it created (what happened, what should we do, why must we take shelter), the 911 system was flooded with calls and temporarily rendered useless.  In the event of a real emergency, this would not bode well.

Here are some relevant questions one might pose:

  • What if something comparable happened during a professional football game in East Rutherford, NJ?
  • Would people have behaved differently if they received this message at 12:26 am instead of 12:26 pm?
  • Although apologies were issued, why has nobody stepped forward and accepted ultimate responsibility?

Hoaxes and cellular devices make for a dangerous combination.  It’s not a matter of if there will be a next one, it’s a matter of when.  When will the United States government take the hint?  Will it be another stock market nosedive?  Will it revolve around a politician’s shame or a celebrity’s embarrassment?  Or will it inevitably result in bodily injury and loss of life?

So here’s the question – will the U.S. government take action before or after the next major calamity?  Considering the stakes, this question should not be a rhetorical one.