Triple 777 disasters

The shock of three lost 777s in a 377 day span.

In June 1995, United Airlines became the first airline to operate a Boeing 777. Since then, more than 1,200 777s have been delivered to airlines around the world and the popular widebody twinjet has clocked millions of flight hours. For 18 years, there were no fatal 777 accidents and only one hull loss resulting from a 777 flight—the British Airways 777-200ER that landed short of the runway at London Heathrow in January 2008, which caused substantial damage to the aircraft but no fatalities. There was also an EgyptAir 777-200ER that suffered irreparable damage from a cockpit fire on the ground before it was scheduled to take off from Cairo in July 2011. Everyone safely got off the aircraft.

This history underscores how stunning it is that, in the space of just 377 days, three 777s and 540 lives were lost in three of the most bizarre airline crashes ever. First, on July 6, 2013, there was the Asiana Airlines 777-200ER hitting a sea wall while attempting to land at San Francisco International, breaking apart and bursting into flames. Amazingly, 304 of the 307 passengers and crew aboard survived, including flight attendants ejected from the aircraft during the crash sequence.

Then, of course, there are this year’s twin Malaysia Airlines disasters. MH370, a 777-200ER, disappeared on March 8 with 239 passengers and crew aboard and still, more than four months later, not a trace has been found. Boeing chairman and CEO Jim McNerney this week called MH17, the 777-200ER that was barbarously shot down with 298 people aboard over eastern Ukraine on July 17, a “particularly unsettling and painful moment in the history of aviation.”

What makes the three 777 hull losses in fatal accidents in just over a year hard to fathom is that there is no safety issue with the 777 itself. The US National Transportation Safety Board clearly concluded that there were no aircraft structural, engine or system failures that contributed to the Asiana Flight 214 crash. Since there is no evidence of anything regarding MH370, there is no reason to speculate there was an aircraft issue that caused the disaster. And no commercial aircraft, no matter how well built, stands a chance against a high-caliber, military-grade surface-to-air missile.

Covering commercial aviation for more than 15 years has taught me to expect the unexpected, and lately it seems every day brings a new surprise. But I don’t think anything prepared me for the shock of three lost 777s in a 377 day span. And the two Malaysia Airlines 777 disasters have really shaken the global airline business; both will have ramifications—particularly in terms of flight tracking and navigation—that are likely to reverberate in commercial aviation for years to come.

Discuss this Blog Entry 4

on Jul 24, 2014

The numbers really make one to wonder. The 777 was shot down on March 17th, having 1st flew on 17 July, 1997. So, it came down on its 17th anniversary!

It was flying as MH 17 and is also the 3rd hull loss of a 777 in the 7th month [July]. One passenger took a photo of the plane before boarding. His Facebook post says, 'in case it disappears, that is how it looks.'

What can we say?

on Jul 25, 2014

I remember vividly the period when the B-777 entered service way back in 1985. The aircraft was touted by Boeing as a design culmination of inputs and suggestions from a wide spectrum of people having some connection with a plane including passengers. The end result was an engineering marvel which has clocked several million flying hours since then.

Without prejudice to the seemingly bizarre events that have involved the 777 in recent days, one has to concede admiringly to the integrity of the aircraft's design and the quality of its systems which have proven themselves impeccably over the years. Indeed amazing that given the level of damage suffered by the Asiana 777 during the botched up landing at SFO, 304 lives were saved. Without doubt, this can be attributed in large measure to the design of this wonderful machine.

Rather regrettable then that the recent incidents have besmirched the fine record of this awesome aircraft for no fault of its own…

on Jul 26, 2014

I don't think there is anything wrong with the aircraft itself.
The BA accident was obviously due to poor workmanship of Rolls Royce Trent 800 engines with regard to ice buildup .Air Asiana was the result of pilot error. MH 370 was most probably the result of a suicide commited by one one the pilots because no aircraft switches off its transponder,changes its route and flies 2000 miles in opposite direction and crashes into ocean when run out of fuel..Clearly no mechanical failure of any kind. MH17 is common knowledge.. B777 is by far the best and the most advanced twin engine wide body ever designed. .Ask Emirates , Singapore and Air France how they feel about the safety of this aircraft.

on Aug 19, 2014

The "7s" in the history of 777
Riahom, I absolutely agree with your comments. I read this last month and it saddened me as much as the 747 Lockerbie bombing.

Both the 747 & 777 have been a big part of my professional life, both industry changing aircraft.

But I must say that the 777 has made a greter impact because of its incredible reliability, amazing quality in its design & construction. Needless to say since day one everyone who becomes involved this "Dream Machine" falls in love with it!

Like Riahom it saddens me that excluding the BA fuel icing/filter clogging/glide to a "safe landing", all these hull losses on the 777's otherwise unblemished record, were at the hands of people intent to cause death & destruction, or failure to maintain control of a serviceable aeroplane in perfect weather conditions.

Human fallibility remains the weak link, not Boeing's Dream Machine!

As Aaron said, in aviation we must be prepared to expect the unexpected - even the with the most perfect airliner evevr built!

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