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Korean Air’s Bid to Delete Pilot’s Testimony Is Refused

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Federal officials have rejected the request by Korean Air that pointed criticism of the airline’s management by one of its pilots be deleted from the transcript of hearings into the crash last summer of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet.

Senior pilot Pyung-Woo Park had testified through an interpreter on March 25 that--looking back on the accident in Guam that killed 228 of the 254 aboard Korean Air Flight 801--"we feel that most of our management, up to now, has been in the level of too shortsighted and superficial in nature [when it comes to safety issues]. . . .

“We plan to make long-term plans and spare no resources in ascertaining the final objective of flight safety,” Park told the National Transportation Safety Board panel convened here. “We will adjust our management systems and invest all the more heavily into training and program development.”

After thanking the panel for its participation and suggestions, Park turned to members of the victims’ families, seated in the audience. His voice choked with emotion, Park offered his condolences.

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To officials and observers unused to such inculpatory testimony at an NTSB hearing, Park’s remarks came as a welcome bit of candor.

But that began to sour the next day, when S. R. Kim, an official of Korean Air, wrote a letter to Robert T. Francis, the NTSB vice chairman who was heading up the hearings, asking that Park’s remarks be stricken from the official record.

Kim argued that the pilot’s statement was “personal in nature, made in accordance with the Korean custom to express condolences on public occasions to those affected by an incident.”

Kim expressed concern that the statement was “likely to be misinterpreted by those reviewing it from a different cultural background as forming a statement of the official position of Korean Air.”

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If Kim’s letter was intended to de-emphasize Park’s remarks, it had the opposite effect.

An obviously irritated Francis released copies of the letter to the media, telling reporters: “We can’t delete testimony.”

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It became apparent during the hearings that pilot error--with attendant implications of shortcomings in Korean Air training and cockpit-management procedures--probably will be identified as major factors in the Aug. 6 crash when the NTSB submits its final report later this year.

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Because Guam is a U.S. territory, lawsuits from the crash will be tried in U.S. courts--a fact not lost on attorneys representing Korean Air.

One of those lawyers, Sean Gates--a solicitor with the British firm of Beaumont and Son--told reporters that “the statement by Park was a Korean cultural offer of apologies and regrets, with no fault connotations.”

Gates expressed concern that “in Western eyes, there might be very different connotations.”

The solicitor said that while Park is “a splendid pilot,” he “got carried away in the heat of the moment.”

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