In some ways, it could have been worse.
Yesterday's crash landing of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport left two passengers dead, and 181 injured (at last report). National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Debbie Hersman notes that with NTSB investigators only just beginning to arrive at the scene, it is "still too early to tell" exactly why the crash happened. But already, enough details have come out that we can predict that, against all odds, this crash is actually going to be good news for Boeing (NYSE: BA ) .
Nearly every news story now discussing the crash is pointing out that despite the tragic loss of lives, Boeing's 777 appears to be the hero of this story, and not the villain.
Commenting on the incident, for example, famed airplane Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger noted that this is the first time in 18 years that a passenger aboard a Boeing 777 has died in an accident. It was also only the second significant accident involving a Triple-7 over those 18 years. The other incident, five years ago, occurred when a Boeing 777-200ER crashed short of its runway at London Heathrow.
Considering that the plane -- 1,100 copies of which are in use around the globe -- has completed more than 5 million flights, that makes the likelihood of dying aboard a 777 literally less than one in a million.
Former NTSB aviation accident investigator Tom Haueter has commended the plane, saying "the 777 has a fantastic record."
Flight Safety Foundation CEO Kevin Hiatt agrees: "It's great design characteristics that kept everything intact on that airplane so that people could actually evacuate." He continued: "This aircraft has got a great safety record. It's one of the safest airliners up there."
As for the plane's builder, upon learning of the accident in San Francisco, Boeing released a statement expressing "its deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who perished in the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 accident in San Francisco, as well as its wishes for the recovery of those injured." The company then immediately promised to "provide technical assistance to [the NTSB's] investigation.
If there's any good news to report about Saturday's tragedy, it would appear to be that the quality of Boeing's workmanship made this disaster much less disastrous than it otherwise might have been.
Side note: A second company counting its lucky stars today is Facebook (NASDAQ: FB ) . USA Today is reporting that the social networking site's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, narrowly avoided being on Flight 214 herself. Flying home over the weekend from Seoul, Sandberg apparently switched to a United Continental (NYSE: UAL ) flight at the last minute, aiming to cash in frequent flyer miles on the latter airline. In so doing, she saved more than a few dollars -- she may have saved her own life.