Among SKoreans, plane crash felt as point of shame

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 9, 2013 at 8:14 pm •  Published: July 9, 2013
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"It's a bit embarrassing," said Son Eun-jung, a 25-year-old office worker in Seoul. "I'm concerned about whether I should be flying on Asiana. If I'm South Korean and thinking this way, I worry what people from other countries might be thinking about Asiana."

While not in the same league as Samsung and Hyundai, Asiana Airlines Inc. is a flagship company of Kumho Asiana Group, South Korea's 16th-largest private conglomerate. It has many international routes as the country's second-largest air carrier, after Korean Air Lines Co., giving it exposure to global consumers and businesses.

The two victims were Chinese, both teenage girls. South Korean President Park Geun-hye sent a letter to Beijing, expressing condolences to President Xi Jinping, Chinese citizens and the girls' families.

Park said the Asiana crash is "regrettable," something an American politician would be unlikely to say, Kelly said, in part because of fears of possible legal action.

The accident was the first by a South Korean jetliner that led to passengers' deaths since a 1997 Korean Air crash in Guam, according to the transport ministry. South Korean air carriers and the government made efforts to improve safety systems and their reputations after a series of airliner accidents in the 1990s and a downgrade by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in 2001 marred the industry.

The efforts paid off. South Korea's two largest air carriers made inroads into the global markets, emerging as renowned airlines in recent years. Incheon International Airport, South Korea's main international airport near Seoul, was the second-largest airport in the world in cargo transportation volume in 2011 and has ranked tops in airport service for eight straight years by Airports Council International.

The link between the success or failure of South Korean firms and a sense of national pride or shame extends also to the actions of ethnic Koreans who become famous — or infamous.

This was true of the 2007 Virginia Tech University shooting rampage in which South Korea-born student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and then himself. After the news reached South Korea, many in America were surprised by the outpouring of emotion, which included candlelight vigils in the streets and widespread expressions of shame. Even though Cho left South Korea young and grew up in the U.S., some South Koreans felt responsibility.

Separately, when the French president appointed Fleur Pellerin, who was adopted by French parents as an infant, as minister of digital economy, the South Korean media aggressively covered her life story, even though Pellerin doesn't speak Korean and had not visited South Korea before being appointed minister.

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AP writer Elizabeth Shim contributed to this report from Seoul.

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