Korean Air Flight 801 (KE801, KAL801) crashed on August 6, 1997, on approach to Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport, Guam (a United States insular area).

Flight 801 was normally flown by an Airbus A300; since Korean Air had scheduled the August 5–6 flight to transport Guamanian athletes to the South Pacific Mini Games in American Samoa,[1] the airline designated HL7468, a Boeing 747-300 delivered to Korean Air on December 12, 1984,[2] to fly the route that night.[1][3] The aircraft crashed on Nimitz Hill in Asan, Guam while on approach to the airport.[4]



Flight 801 departed from Seoul-Kimpo International Airport (now Gimpo Airport) at 8:53 pm (9:53 pm Guam time) on August 5 on its way to Guam. It carried two pilots, a flight engineer, 14 flight attendants, and 237 passengers,[5] a total of 254 people. Of the passengers, three were children between the ages of 2 and 12 and three were 24 months old or younger.[6] Six of the passengers were Korean Air flight attendants who were deadheading.[7]

The flight, headed by 42-year old Captain Park Yong-chul (Hangul: 박용철, RR: Bak Yong-cheol, M-R: Pak Yongch'ŏl)[8] 40-year old First Officer Song Kyung-ho (Hangul: 송경호, RR: Song Gyeong-ho, M-R: Song Kyŏngho) and 57-year old flight engineer Nam Suk-hoon (Hangul: 남석훈, RR: Nam Seok-hun, M-R: Nam Sŏkhun),[9] experienced some turbulence but was uneventful until shortly after 1:00am on August 6, as the jet was preparing to land. Park had originally been scheduled to fly to Dubai, United Arab Emirates; since he did not have enough rest for the Dubai trip, he was reassigned to Flight 801.[7] Earlier Park won a flight safety award for negotiating a 747 engine failure.[10]


There was heavy rain at Guam so visibility was significantly reduced and the crew was attempting an instrument landing. Air traffic control in Guam advised the crew that the glideslope Instrument Landing System (ILS) in runway 6L was out of service. Air traffic control cleared Flight 801 to land on runway 6L at around 1:40 am. The crew noticed that the aircraft was descending very steeply, and noted several times that the airport "is not in sight". At 1:42 am, the aircraft flew into Nimitz Hill, about 3 nautical miles (5 km) short of the runway, at an altitude of 660 feet (201 m).

One survivor, 36-year-old Hyun Seong Hong (홍현성, also spelled Hong Hyun Sung) of the United States, occupied Seat 3B in first class, and said that the crash occurred so quickly that the passengers "had no time to scream"[11] and compared the crash to "a scene from a film".[12]

File:Korean Air Flight 801 wreckage.jpg

The rescue effort was hampered by the weather, terrain, and other problems. Emergency vehicles could not approach due to a fuel pipeline destroyed by the crash and blocking the narrow road. There was confusion over the administration of the effort; the crash occurred on land owned by the United States Navy but civil authorities initially claimed authority. The hull had disintegrated, and jet fuel in the wing tanks had sparked a fire which was still burning eight hours after impact.

Rika MatsudaEdit

Governor Carl T.C. Gutierrez found 11-year-old Rika Matsuda, a South Korean citizen from Japan who boarded the flight with her mother, 44-year-old Cho Sung-yeo (also known as Shigeko [13][14]). Rika Matsuda described what happened to her and her mother to interpreters.[11] Cho could not free herself from the aircraft and told Rika to run away. Luggage piled on the girl and her mother as the crash occurred; Rika Matsuda said her mother, unable to free herself, asked her to leave.[11] Cho died in the fire. After escaping the aircraft, Rika discovered a surviving flight attendant, Lee Yong Ho (이용호). They stayed together until Gutierrez discovered them.[15] Rika Matsuda, treated at Guam Memorial Hospital in Tamuning, was released on August 7, 1997. The girl and her father, Tatsuo Matsuda, were escorted to the Governor House where they were the guests of Gutierrez and the First Lady of Guam for several days; afterwards Rika and Tatsuo Matsuda flew to Japan.[4][16]

Investigation and causeEdit

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The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation report stated that the ATC Minimum Safe Altitude Warning (MSAW) system at Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport had been deliberately modified so as to limit spurious alarms and could not detect an approaching aircraft below minimum safe altitude. The captain also failed to follow a normal non-precision approach and prematurely descended to impact a hillside short of the runway. Contributing to the accident were the captain's fatigue, Korean Air's lack of flight crew training, as well as the intentional outage of the Guam ILS Glideslope due to maintenance. The crew had been using an outdated flight map, which stated that the Minimum Safe Altitude for a landing aircraft was 1,770 feet (540 m) as opposed to the correct altitude of 2,150 feet (656 m). Flight 801 had been maintaining 1,870 feet (570 m) when it was waiting to land.

The NTSB held a public hearing session on March 24, 25, and 26, 1998 in the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu CDP, City and County of Honolulu, Hawaii.[17][18][19]


Many of the passengers were vacationers and honeymooners flying to Guam.[13][20]

Rika Matsuda, a South Korean passport holder, was described as Japanese in many press reports.[13] One South Korean lived in Guam,[11] while New Zealander Barry Small worked in Guam.[10]

Deaths and injuriesEdit


Of the 254 people on board, 223 people, including 209 passengers and 14 crew members (3 flight crew and 11 cabin crew) were killed at the crash site.[6]

Of the 31 occupants found alive by rescue crews, two passengers died en-route to the hospital and three other passengers, including one off-duty flight attendant, survived the crash and the transportation to the hospital but died of their injuries within 30 days of the crash.[6][7] Among the survivors, 16 received burn injuries. Of the 26 listed as survivors by the NTSB, 12 (all South Korean citizens, 11 residents of South Korea, one a resident of Japan) were initially treated at Guam Memorial Hospital (GMH) in Tamuning and 14 (10 South Koreans, three Americans, one New Zealander) were initially treated at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Agana Heights. Of the passengers who arrived at the hospital, 12 of them were transported to South Korea, and four severely burned passengers were transported to the U.S. Army Burn Center in San Antonio, Texas.[4][21] Of those transported to South Korea, eight passengers from the Naval Hospital who had minor to serious burns were placed on a medivac to Seoul at 10:00 PM on August 7, 1997. A medical team from Yokosuka, Japan escorted the passengers to University Hospital in Seoul. By August 10, all of the GMH passengers were out of Guam. Three local residents and the New Zealander were treated entirely within the Naval Hospital in Guam.[4]

All of the crash victims transported to San Antonio died. At 5:10 pm U.S. Central Time on August 10, 1997, 11-year old Grace Chung, a Marietta, Georgia girl who was burned on 50 to 60 percent of her face and had received the first of four planned skin graft surgeries, died.[22] Chung had arrived at the hospital almost one day before her death.[23] On August 30, 1997, flight attendant Han Kyu-hee (한규희), who had been transferred from the Naval Hospital in Guam, died in San Antonio. 40-year old Chung Yong-hak (정영학) died in San Antonio on September 3, 1997.[4][24] Ju Sejin died there on October 10, 1997, but because this passenger died more than 30 days after the crash, the passenger is not listed as a crash fatality.[7][25][26]

One of the two passengers who died en-route to the hospital was a female who had sustained multiple internal injuries but had no burns and no soot in her airway; this led to an autopsy that classified her death as not of any one cause. At the time of discovery she was alive and was treated by rescuers.[6] There were 23 passengers and three flight attendants who survived the crash with serious injuries [1] (Pg. 11, 23 of 226). Of the survivors, seven passengers and one flight attendant were in first class, one flight attendant was in the prestige class section, seven passengers were in the forward economy class section, and nine passengers and one flight attendant were in the aft economy section. Thirteen of the surviving passengers and two of the surviving flight attendants were seated in the right side of the airplane, and six of the 13 passengers were seated over the right wing. None of the passengers or crew on the upper deck of the airplane survived.[6]

Notable passengersEdit

  • Shin Ki-ha, a four term South Korean parliamentarian and former leader of the National Congress for New Politics, traveled with his wife and around 20 party members. Shin and his wife died.[27][28]

Identification and repatriation of bodiesEdit

On August 13, 1997, 12 sets of remains were brought to Guam's airport to be readied to be flown back to Seoul. Clifford Guzman, a governor's aide, said that two of the 12 were taken back to the morgue. Of the 10, one was misidentified and had to be switched before takeoff. The 10 bodies transported to Seoul were of seven passengers and three female flight attendants. On the same date, an NTSB family affairs official named Matthew Furman said that in total, by that date, 46 bodies had been identified.[29]

After the crashEdit


After the crash occurred, the airline provided several flights for around 300 relatives so that they could go to the crash site.[30]

On August 13, 1997, 50 protesters staged at a sit-in at Guam Airport, saying that the recovery of the dead was taking too long; they sat on blankets and sheets of paper at the Korean Air counter.[29]

On August 6, 2000, the third anniversary of the crash, a black marble obelisk was unveiled on the crash site as a memorial to the victims.

After the accident, Korean Air services to Guam were suspended for more than four years, leading to reduced tourist spending in Guam and reduced revenues for Korean Air.[31] When Seoul-Guam services resumed in December 2001,[32] the flight number was changed to 805. The flight number for its Seoul-Guam route is now 111 and operates out of Incheon instead of Gimpo.

In 2000, a lawsuit was settled in the amount of $70,000,000 United States dollars on behalf of 54 families.[33]

New Zealander Barry Small, a helicopter pilot and a survivor of the accident, lobbied for safer storage of duty-free alcohol and redesigns of crossbars on airline seats; he said that the storage of duty-free alcohol on Flight 801 contributed to spreading of the fire and the crossbars injured passengers to the point where they could not escape from the aircraft.[10][34][35]

The Government of Guam moved its website about the Korean Air crash after the Spamcop program alerted the government that advance fee fraud spam from Nigeria used the website link as a part of the scam.[36] Scam e-mails used names of passengers, such as Sean Burke, as part of the fraud.[37]

Malcolm Gladwell discusses the crash in the context of ethnocentric power structures in his book Outliers.[38]

The accident was documented on Mayday (Air Emergency or Air Crash Investigation), episode "Final Approach" (known in other areas as "Missed Approach" and "Blind Landing.")


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Transcripts Between Guam Airport Tower and KA801 before Crash." Government of Guam. Retrieved on August 30, 2010.
  2. NTSB Report, pp.16, 28
  3. "Official Guam Crash Site Center - Korean Air Flt 801," Government of Guam
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4
  5. NTSB Report, pp. 11, 23
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 NTSB Report, pp.45, 57
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 NTSB Report, pp.3, 15
  8. "Two Systems Down in KAL 801 Crash," Honolulu Star-Bulletin
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 "Final Approach." Mayday.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Pollack, Andrew. "Pilot Error Is Suspected in Crash on Guam," The New York Times. August 8, 1997. Retrieved on October 25, 2010.
  12. Anger and tears as Guam crash families beg to see dead, The Independent
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 "Honeymoon flight that ended in horror." The Independent. Thursday August 7, 1997. Retrieved on August 30, 2010.
  14. "Jet hell Rika's scars will last forever.," Daily Record
  15. "Korean Air Survivor - Rika's Miracle," Government of Guam
  16. "Korean Air Survivor - Rika's Miracle." Government of Guam. Retrieved on February 13, 2009.
  17. "PUBLIC HEARING IN CONNECTION WITH THE INVESTIGATION OF AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT KOREAN AIR FLIGHT 801, B-747-300 AGANA, GUAM AUGUST 6, 1997." National Transportation Safety Board. Retrieved on June 29, 2011.
  18. "PUBLIC HEARING IN CONNECTION WITH THE INVESTIGATION OF AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT KOREAN AIR FLIGHT 801, B-747-300 AGANA, GUAM AUGUST 6, 1997." National Transportation Safety Board. Retrieved on June 29, 2011.
  19. "THE INVESTIGATION OF KOREAN AIR FLIGHT 801, B-747-300, AGANA, GUAM AUGUST 6, 1997." National Transportation Safety Board. Retrieved on June 29, 2011.
  20. "List of passengers aboard Korean Air Flight 801." CNN. August 6, 1997. Retrieved on August 30, 2010.
  21. "Airplane Crash in Guam, August 6, 1997: The Aeromedical Evacuation Response."
  22. "One Crash Victim Dies, Three Cling to Life at Burn Center." U.S. Department of Defense.
  23. Wiechmann, Lori. "Last member of Atlanta family on downed Korean jet dies." Athens Daily News. August 12, 1997. Retrieved on July 1, 2011.
  24. "Daily Briefing." The Seattle Times. Tuesday September 2, 1997. Corrected on September 8, 1997. "Two more people who initially survived last month's crash of a Korean Air jumbo jet in Guam have died, bringing the death toll to 228, a South Korean foreign ministry spokesman said today. Korean flight attendant Han Kyu-hee died on Saturday at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. Another South Korean, Jung Young-hak, a passenger, died on Sunday in the same facility."
  25. Gillert, Douglas J. "One Crash Victim Dies, Three Cling to Life at Burn Center." U.S. Department of Defense. Retrieved on June 30, 2011. "The other victims brought here were Se Jin Ju, 28; Kyu Hee Han, 29; and Young Hak Jung, 39, all South Korean citizens. Along with Chung, they were the most severely burned survivors and needed the kind of treatment the Brooke Army Medical Center burn unit here provides."
  26. "Safety Recommendation Date: January 27, 2000 In reply refer to: A-00-19 and -20." National Transportation Safety Board. Retrieved on June 30, 2011. " A passenger with serious injuries died at the U.S. Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, on October 10, 1997, but is not officially listed as a fatality because the passenger’s death occurred more than 30 days after the accident"
  29. 29.0 29.1 "Guam Crash Aftermath Upsets Kin." The Seattle Times. August 13, 1997.
  30. Coleman, Joe. "Survivors recount the fiery last moments." The Associated Press at the Savannah Morning News. Thursday August 7, 1997. 10A. Retrieved on July 1, 2011.
  31. "Specifics of Crash Site Information." Guam Government. Retrieved on December 9, 2008.
  32. "Korean Air resumes service to Guam for the first time in 4 years." Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Friday December 28, 2001. Retrieved on April 29, 2009.
  33. Current Cases & Our Successes - A Professional Corporation
  34. "Final Approach - Korean Air 801." Discovery Channel. Retrieved on June 26, 2009.
  35. "Exhibit 16C - Korean Air Flight 801." National Transportation Safety Board. Retrieved on June 26, 2009.
  36. "This webpage has been cancelled."Template:Sic Government of Guam. Retrieved on April 29, 2009.
  37. Larson, Aaron. "False Promises of Inheritance - Spam Email Fraud." Law Offices of Aaron Larson at ExpertLaw. July 2004. Retrieved on May 13, 2009.
  38. Outliers ch 7, The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes, pp 209-223


External linksEdit

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