SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5/AP) — Asiana Airlines President Yoon Young-doo arrived in San Francisco from South Korea on Tuesday, fighting his way through a pack of international journalists outside airport customs.
His appearance comes just days after Asiana Flight 214 clipped a seawall before crash landing at San Francisco International Airport. Saturday’s crash killed two people, but remarkably 305 others survived.
Yoon said he would look at the efforts of airline employees to help injured passengers and their family members, visit with the National Transportation Safety Board and other organizations to apologize for the crash and try to meet injured passengers.
Yoon said he can’t meet with Flight 214′s pilots because no outside contact with them is allowed until the investigation is completed.
Even before flying to the U.S., the airline chief – with a low bow – apologized not just to passengers and their families, but to all of South Korea.
Along with sadness over one of the highest-profile crashes by a Korean air carrier in recent years, South Koreans in general feel shame and embarrassment about how it reflects on their country, said Taesuh Park, a Korean Broadcasting System correspondent covering Yoon’s visit to SFO.
“It’s kind of a disastrous thing, but we feel sad about this kind of accident. It shouldn’t be happening, right?” Park told KPIX 5. “That’s why you express the Korean shame.”
It is a reaction that would be difficult to imagine coming from people in the U.S. or many other countries. The successes and failures of big South Korean firms are intimately linked to the small, proud, recently developed country’s psyche.
South Koreans take great interest in the global profile of local companies and of ethnic Koreans on the world stage. Many feel pride, for instance, seeing Samsung billboards in New York’s Times Square. And when a company’s stumbles draw international attention, there’s a collective sense of national shame, even for South Koreans who have no connection to the company beyond nationality.
“I feel it shows the Korean culture at it’s best, where there’s a sense of personal accountability,” said Anthony LoBaido, a passenger on the Asiana flight that carried Yoon to SFO on Tuesday morning.
The stories of Asiana crew members heroically working to save passengers have inspired feelings of pride. But even before investigators determine what happened, there’s already a sense of shame that a South Korean company was involved in the crash.
While not in the same league as Samsung and Hyundai, Asiana Airlines Inc. is a flagship company of Kumho Asiana Group, South Korea’s 16th-largest private conglomerate. It has many international routes as the country’s second-largest air carrier, after Korean Air Lines Co., giving it exposure to global consumers and businesses.
The accident was the first by a South Korean jetliner that led to passengers’ deaths since a 1997 Korean Air crash in Guam, according to the nation’s transport ministry.
(Copyright 2013 CBS San Francisco. All rights reserved.)