TV station’s airing of racist pilot names sparks furor


The broadcast Friday by a Bay Area television station of fake, racially insensitive names of the pilots flying the ill-fated Asiana Airlines Flight 214 has sparked outrage.

The segment on Friday at noon that referred to two of the pilots as “Captain Sum Ting Wong,” and “Wi Tu Lo,” has gone viral and drawn heavy criticism on the Internet.

In a statement read on KTVU-TV on Friday night, anchor Frank Somerville said the station made several mistakes.


Somerville did not say how exactly the station got the names.

But “we never read the names out loud, phonetically sounding them out” before going on the air, he said.

Late Friday, the National Transportation Safety Board acknowledged that a summer intern confirmed the names to KTVU when a reporter from the station called about them.

“Earlier today, in response to an inquiry from a media outlet, 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 said in a statement. “Appropriate actions will be taken to ensure that such a serious error is not repeated.”

Somerville said the station didn’t properly verify who at the NTSB was confirming the names.

The hoax prompted outrage 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.”


The two said KTVU should explain where the names originated.

In a letter to Tom Raponi, KTVU/KICU vice president and general manager, retired KTVU reporter Lloyd LaCuesta, an Asian American Journalists Assn. member, 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.

Two teenage girls from China and another passenger were killed and more than 180 people injured when the Boeing 777 clipped a sea wall and slammed into a runway Saturday at San Francisco International Airport.

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

The KTVU newscast was captured in a video posted to YouTube, in which the station displayed four incorrect pilot names on the screen and an anchor read them aloud.

“The NTSB has confirmed these are the names of the pilots aboard Flight 214 when it crashed,” the anchor said. “We are working to determine exactly what roles each of them played during the landing on Saturday.”

Another YouTube video showed an apology read by the same anchor.

“These names were not accurate despite an NTSB official in Washington confirming them late this morning,” the anchor said. “We apologize for this error.”


The station issued a statement Friday afternoon acknowledging it had “misidentified the pilots involved.”

“Prior to air, the names were confirmed by an NTSB official in the agency’s Washington, D.C., office,” the statement posted on the station’s website said. “Despite that confirmation, KTVU realized the names that aired were not accurate and issued an apology later in the newscast.”

“We sincerely regret the error and took immediate action to apologize, both in the newscast where the mistake occurred, as well as on our website and social media sites,” Raponi said in the statement. “Nothing is more important to us than having the highest level of accuracy and integrity, and we are reviewing our procedures to ensure this type of error does not happen again.”


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