Asiana Airlines has been fined $500,000 for failing to assist passengers and their families following last year's crash in San Francisco, federal transportation officials announced Tuesday, noting that it took up to five days for the airline to contact family members of those onboard and to provide other services required by federal law.
In a statement, the U.S. Department of Transportation said the Korean airline did not "adhere to the assurances in its family assistance plan" -- various services foreign airlines are required to provide passengers and their families to ensure prompt assistance during major aircraft incidents.
The fine was the first of its kind, the agency said.
[Updated 1:35 p.m. PST, Feb. 25: In a statement, Asiana Airlines said it provided "extensive support to the passengers and their families following the accident and will continue to do so."]
Asiana Airlines could not immediately be reached for comment.
Three people were killed and more than 180 of the 307 passengers and crew members were injured when the Boeing 777 clipped a sea wall and slammed into a runway at San Francisco International Airport. A National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the July 6 crash is ongoing.
The Department of Transportation said that for a day after the crash, the Korean airline didn't "widely publicize" a telephone number for family members of the passengers, and that the only number generally available was its toll-free reservation line.
"The reservations line did not include a separate menu option for calls related to the crash and callers were required to navigate through cumbersome automated menus before being connected to an Asiana employee," the Department of Transportation's statement said.
Further, the agency said, it took the airline two full days to successfully contact the families of only three-quarters of the passengers, and five days to contact several of the families.
Overall, the agency said Asiana Airlines did not have adequate resources to carry out its family assistance plan, noting it took two days for the airline to send a "sufficient number of trained personnel" to San Francisco and that it "initially lacked an adequate number of staff" who could speak the same language as the passengers aboard the flight.
The agency said the airline also did not have a pre-existing contract to clean passenger property and return it.
All in all, the agency said, it took Asiana Airlines five days after the crash to get the necessary resources to carry out all of its response plan.
“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,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in the 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.”
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