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Asiana says it will sue TV station after pilot name gaffe

Passengers evacuate the Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 aircraft after a crash landing at San Francisco International Airport in California July
Passengers evacuate the Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 aircraft after a crash landing at San Francisco International Airport in California July

By Gerry Shih

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Asiana Airlines said Monday it will sue a TV station that incorrectly reported racially offensive names of four pilots onboard the flight that crash-landed in early July at San Francisco International Airport.

An anchorwoman at KTVU, a Fox affiliate based in Oakland, California, fell victim on Friday to an apparent prank and reported four bogus pilot names, including "Sum Ting Wong" and "Wi Tu Low," during the noon newscast. Within hours, the broadcast footage had gone viral on the Internet, drawing widespread criticism and ridicule.

"We decided to sue KTVU because Asiana Airlines thinks their news defames our pilots and our company's reputation," Kiwon Suh, an Asiana spokesman, said Monday.

During an extended on-air apology late Friday, KTVU said it failed to "read the names out loud, phonetically sounding them out." But in a bizarre twist, the station also blamed the National Transportation Safety Board, which had confirmed the names for the station prior to the broadcast.

The NTSB apologized late Friday and acknowledged that a summer intern who was answering phones as a volunteer at the agency confirmed the fake names "in good faith" for KTVU. So far, neither KTVU nor the NTSB have explained where the names originated.

On Monday, Suh, the Asiana spokesman, played down earlier reports that the company threatened legal action against the federal agency as well. "We will never sue the NTSB," Suh said.

KTVU, which is owned by the media conglomerate Cox, and the NTSB did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

The gaffe came five days after Asiana disclosed the names of the pilot and co-pilot on Flight 214 as Lee Kang-kook and Lee Jeong-min, respectively.

The crash of the Boeing 777 plane resulted in the deaths of three teenage girls in a group of students from eastern China who were visiting the United States for a summer camp. Over 180 passengers and crew members were injured.

(This story was corrected to remove inaccurate reference to anchorwoman taking leave of absence)

(Reporting by Gerry Shih; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)