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The Asiana crash: does culture play a role?

Did culture play a role in the pilots lack of communication before the crash?
Did culture play a role in the pilots lack of communication before the crash?

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The Asiana plane crash in San Francisco this weekend has left everyone with more questions than answers.  The National Transportation Safety Board has said that it would take months, if not years, to complete a full investigation. For some aviation experts, the accident brings to mind an earlier incident, when Korean Air Flight 801 crashed into a hill while flying into an airport in Guam in 1997, killing 223 people.

Writer Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the crash in his 2008 book, "Outliers," and his analysis pointed to Korea's hierarchical culture as the main reason behind the tragic event. In that culture, subordinates simply do not challenge someone more senior than they are. "What they were struggling with was a cultural legacy, that Korean culture is hierarchical," Gladwell said in a Fortune interview. "You are obliged to be deferential toward your elders and superiors in a way that would be unimaginable in the U.S.".

Could this same cultural dynamic have affected the pilot's behaviors on Asiana? Does culture play a role in the crash? Do different cultural norms affect decision making in emergency situations?


Gary Katzenstein, a Professor at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley

Captain Ross Rusty Aimer, CEO of Aero Consulting and a former United Airlines Pilot