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Asiana to sue TV station over racially offensive fake pilot names

The National Transportation Safety Board says an intern mistakenly confirmed to a TV station racially offensive fake names for the pilots of the Asiana flight that crashed in San Francisco. NBC's Michelle Franzen reports.

SEOUL, South Korea - Asiana plans to sue a California television station that mistakenly aired fake, racially offensive names for the pilots of the flight that crashed last week in San Francisco, the airline announced Monday.

The Korean carrier said it had selected a U.S. law firm and will soon file a petition with the courts on the grounds of defamation.

In a Friday report, Oakland TV station KTVU broadcast four erroneous names for the pilots of Flight 214 after a National Transportation Safety Board intern mistakenly confirmed them as being correct. 

"This legal action is being taken because of the KTVU report that not only disparaged Asians in general through the use of racially charged epithets, but also severely damaged the reputation of Asiana Airlines," the company said in a statement.

The TV station and the federal investigative agency have both apologized for the report.

“We have a lot of good people here at KTVU Channel 2. We pride ourselves on getting it right and having the highest of standards and integrity," the station said in an on-air apology Friday later uploaded to its website. "Clearly, on Friday, that didn't happen.  So again, from everyone here at KTVU, we offer our sincerest apology."

The NTSB has said that the bogus names were confirmed by an unidentified summer intern, who has been released from his position.

“Earlier today, in response to an inquiry from a media outlet, a summer intern acted outside the scope of his authority when he erroneously confirmed the names of the flight crew on the aircraft,” the NTSB said Friday.

“The National Transportation Safety Board apologizes for inaccurate and offensive names that were mistakenly confirmed as those of the pilots of Asiana flight 214, which crashed at San Francisco International Airport on July 6,” the statement said.

The phony names, which could be seen as Asian-stereotype spellings of phrases like “Something Wrong” and “We Too Low,” were read by an anchor during KTVU’s noon broadcast Friday.

The anchor, Tori Campbell, later in the broadcast said the names “were not accurate despite an NTSB official in Washington confirming them late this morning.”

“We apologize for this error,” she said.

Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman for the NTSB, told Reuters that the intern was a student volunteer who fielded phone calls but was instructed to transfer questions to official media representatives at the agency.

The Asian American Journalists Association said Friday that the station is “hardly off the hook” for reporting the “grossly offensive” names.

“We fail to understand how those obviously phony names could escape detection before appearing on the broadcast and were spoken by the news anchor,” said Paul Cheung, the association president, in a statement. “We urge KTVU to conduct a thorough review to prevent similar lapses.”

The four pilots returned to South Korea on Saturday, according to The Associated Press.

Asiana Airlines Flight 214 slammed into the seawall and caught fire on the runway at San Francisco International Airport on July 6, killing three and injuring scores of others.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report. Tom Costello of NBC News also contributed.


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