Asiana pilot names: NTSB intern ‘no longer with agency,’ report says

The National Transportation Safety Board intern who apparently confirmed the fake, racially insensitive names of the pilots flying the ill-fated Asiana Airlines Flight 214 is “no longer with the agency,” CNN reported Monday.

CNN cited “a government official with knowledge of the situation” in its report.

In an email to the Los Angeles Times, NTSB spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said the agency does not “discuss or disclose information relating to personnel matters” but “has taken appropriate action to deal with the situation.”

“In addition,” Nantel wrote, “we are reviewing our policies and procedures to determine where we might be able to strengthen them so that this kind of situation doesn’t happen again.”


After Bay Area television station KTVU aired a broadcast Friday including four incorrect pilot names -- such as “Captain Sum Ting Wong” and “Wi Tu Lo” -- attributing the information to the NTSB, the agency said in a statement that “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 apologized for what it described as “inaccurate and offensive names that were mistakenly confirmed.”

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

The station apologized after the noon report aired, acknowledging that it “misidentified” the pilots and “made several mistakes when we received this information.”

Anchor Frank Somerville read another apology on the station’s Friday evening broadcast that was also posted to its website, saying “even with this statement from the NTSB, KTVU accepts full responsibility for this mistake.”

“First, we never read the names out loud, phonetically sounding them out,” the statement said. “Then, during our phone call to the NTSB where the person confirmed the spellings of the names, we never asked that person to give us their position with the agency.

“We heard this person verify the information without questioning who they were and then rushed the names on our noon newscast.”

The incident drew criticism from some Asian American activists and a journalism organization.

“Words cannot adequately express the outrage we … feel over KTVU’s on-air blunder that made a mockery of the Asiana Airlines tragedy,” wrote Asian American Journalists Assn. President Paul Cheung and MediaWatch Chair Bobby Caina Calvan. “We are embarrassed for the anchor, who was as much a victim as KTVU’s viewers and KTVU’s hard-working staff.”

In a letter to KTVU General Manager Tom Raponi, Lloyd LaCuesta, an Asian American Journalists Assn. member and a retired KTVU reporter, said he was saddened by the airing of the prank names.

“Common sense indicates that simply sounding out the names would have raised red flags,” LaCuesta wrote in the letter.

Three girls -- high school classmates from China -- were killed and more than 180 people injured July 6 after the Boeing 777 clipped a sea wall and slammed into a runway at San Francisco International Airport.

Asiana Airlines has identified the pilot and copilot as Lee Kang-kook and Lee Jung-min.

Asiana spokesman Suh Kiwon told The Times on Monday that the airline was planning a defamation lawsuit against KTVU because the company felt that the station’s “mocking” report of the bogus pilot names damaged the Asiana’s reputation.

“The derogatory report defamed Asiana and its pilots,” Suh said. “We made the determination that it caused great harm to our reputation.”

Suh said the suit would be against KTVU and not the National Transportation Safety Board, which confirmed the fake names, because it was the station’s broadcast that led to the harm.


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