View from a UA B747 - The Crash of Asiana Airlines at SFO

At this point we have all watched the shocking video of the Asiana B777 crash land at SFO, but did you notice the UNITED 747 sitting on the taxi way waiting to enter that same runway to depart?


You can see the UA 747 at the right of this photo. 

That was UA885 at full B747 heading to (KIX) Osaka, I have gotten my hands on an internal United pilots recount of what happened on UA885 as the Asiana B777 crash and uncontrollably made it’s way down the runway.

On July 6, 2013 at approximately 1827Z I was the 747-400 relief F/O
on flt 885, ID326/06 SFO-KIX. I was a witness to the Asiana Flt 214
accident. We had taxied to hold short of runway 28L at SFO on taxiway
F, and were waiting to rectify a HAZMAT cargo issue as well as our
final weights before we could run our before takeoff checklist and
depart. As we waited on taxiway F heading East, just prior to the
perpendicular holding area, all three pilots took notice of the Asiana
777 on short final. I noticed the aircraft looked low on glidepath and
had a very high deck angle compared to what seemed “normal”. I then
noticed at the apparent descent rate and closure to the runway
environment the aircraft looked as though it was going to impact the
approach lights mounted on piers in the SF Bay. The aircraft made a
fairly drastic looking pull up in the last few feet and it appeared
and sounded as if they had applied maximum thrust. However the descent
path they were on continued and the thrust applied didn't appear to
come soon enough to prevent impact. The tail cone and empennage of the
777 impacted the bulkhead seawall and departed the airplane and the
main landing gear sheared off instantly. This created a long debris
field along the arrival end of 28L, mostly along the right side of
28L. We saw the fuselage, largely intact, slide down the runway and
out of view of our cockpit. We heard much confusion and quick
instructions from SFO Tower and a few moments later heard an aircraft
go around over the runway 28 complex. We realized within a few moments
that we were apparently unharmed so I got on the PA and instructed
everyone to remain seated and that we were safe.

We all acknowledged if we had been located between Runways 28R and 28L
on taxiway F we would have likely suffered damage to the right side
aft section of our aircraft from the 777.

Approximately two minutes later I was looking out the left side
cockpit windows and noticed movement on the right side of Runway 28L.
Two survivors were stumbling but moving abeam the Runway “28L” marking
on the North side of the runway. I saw one survivor stand up, walk a
few feet, then appear to squat down. The other appeared to be a woman
and was walking, then fell off to her side and remained on the ground
until rescue personnel arrived. The Captain was on the radio and I
told him to tell tower what I had seen, but I ended up taking the
microphone instead of relaying through him. I told SFO tower that
there appeared to be survivors on the right side of the runway and
they needed to send assistance immediately. It seemed to take a very
long time for vehicles and assistance to arrive for these victims. The
survivors I saw were approximately 1000-1500' away from the fuselage
and had apparently been ejected from the fuselage.

We made numerous PAs to the passengers telling them any information we
had, which we acknowledged was going to change rapidly, and I left the
cockpit to check on the flight attendants and the overall mood of the
passengers, as I was the third pilot and not in a control seat. A
couple of our flight attendants were shaken up but ALL were doing an
outstanding and extremely professional job of handling the passenger's
needs and providing calm comfort to them. One of the flight attendants
contacted unaccompanied minors' parents to ensure them their children
were safe and would be taken care of by our crew. Their demeanor and
professionalism during this horrific event was noteworthy. I went to
each cabin and spoke to the passengers asking if everyone was OK and
if they needed any assistance, and gave them information personally,
to include telling them what I saw from the cockpit. I also provided
encouragement that we would be OK, we'd tell them everything we learn
and to please relax and be patient and expect this is going to be a
long wait. The passenger mood was concerned but generally calm. A few
individuals were emotional as nearly every passenger on the left side
of the aircraft saw the fuselage and debris field going over 100 knots
past our aircraft only 300' away. By this point everyone had looked
out the windows and could see the smoke plume from the 777. A number
of passengers also noticed what I had seen with the survivors out near
the end of 28L expressing concern that the rescue effort appeared slow
for those individuals that had been separated from the airplane

We ultimately had a tug come out and tow us back to the gate, doing a
3 point turn in the hold short area of 28L. We were towed to gate 101
where the passengers deplaned. Captain Jim Abel met us at the aircraft
and gave us information he had and asked if we needed any assistance
or hotel rooms for the evening. Captain Herlihy and F/O Ishikawa went
to hotels and I went to my home an hour away in the East Bay

At 2:36 of this recording of ATC you can hear UA885 call the tower to tell them about the people at the end of the runway who are in need of help. 

As someone who travels a lot I can even start to think how I would react to a B777 crashing just 300 feet away. Shocking and sounds like the crew of UA885 did a good job in dealing with an event that no crew could be trained for. 

SFO is a major UNITED hub and I think it is also very important to point out that many UNITED staff and “Go teams” have been helping with the aftermath of the Asiana crash. As a Star Alliance partner UA jumped into action to help, the mainstream media is not really covering how many at UNITED have really made a big difference in the hours and days after the event. Today in a press conference Asiana made this statement, “In San Francisco, Asiana employees in coordination with United Airlines employees are devoting all their energy in providing on-site assistance and aid.” 



Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

UAL 1K Brooklyn July 9, 2013 at 11:20 pm

Great summary by the pilot but not a "view from the 747" as that would indicate a picture or video. Change the title mate. Perhaps "A view into the mind of a pilot on the UA 747 at SFO". However that might not sell more click throughs....

Damian July 9, 2013 at 11:26 pm

An individual and personal perception, judgment, or interpretation; an opinion