During 18 years in service, the Boeing 777 has developed a reputation as one of the world’s safest commercial airplanes.
The only serious crash of the twin-engine, widebodied jet occurred on Jan. 17, 2008, when a British Airways 777 lost power and crashed short of the runway at London’s Heathrow Airport. A landing gear collapsed and a strut pierced the passenger floor, yet apart from one broken leg there were no serious injuries.
The crash led to regulatory action after investigators determined a buildup of ice in the fuel lines caused the power failure, according to news reports.
Outside of that accident, the so-called “Triple Seven” has amassed a stellar safety record.
Since entering service in June 1995, the long-range plane has flown about 5 million flights, accumulating more than 18 million flight hours, according to Boeing’s website. As of last month, Boeing had delivered more than 1,100 of the planes to airlines around the world.
“The 777 has a fantastic record,” said Tom Haueter, who retired last year from the National Transportation Safety Board, where he was the head of aviation accident investigations.
Saturday’s crash at San Francisco International Airport was “eerily similar” to the 2008 crash, said John Nance, a veteran airline pilot who lives in Washington state and serves as aviation expert for ABC News.
In that crash, investigators determined that ice built up during the flight over a polar route, the Associated Press reported in 2009. Investigators found that when the pilots applied thrust for landing, the ice dislodged and blocked the flow of fuel.
Nance said the crew of the British Airway flights got no response when they pushed the plane to full throttle at an altitude of 600 feet as they approached the airport.
On Saturday, the Asiana flight was coming in “too low and too slow,” indicating a possible flight-control problem, Nance said, basing his observations on reports the plane hit the breakwater and that its nose was pointed high in the air at the time of the crash.
“So the question is, did they push the throttles up like British Airways and not get anything,” Nance said, noting that the plane had been flying about 12 hours in extremely cold conditions.
As for the low approach, Nance said, “That is something no pilot would voluntarily do.”
The question is why did that happen, he said, noting information from the flight-data recorder will be crucial.