How an Intern Was Thrown Under the Bus for the Racist Joke Alleging Asiana 214 Pilot Names

By now the world is aware of a San Francisco television station ‘confirming’ the names of the pilots of Asiana 214 which crashed on landing in San Francisco last weekend.

I first saw the story on Matthew’s blog. Ben covered it as well.

When I saw the clip on YouTube yesterday there were fewer than 1000 views. Now as of this writing there have been nearly 2 million.

In case it’s new to you:

The San Francisco television station insisted it really wasn’t their fault and indeed in the televised report they claimed the pilot names were confirmed by the National Transportation Safety Board.

My first thought was how could this be possible?

Now we learn that the pilot names were confirmed by a spokesperson for the NTSB. who happens to have been an intern.

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 does not release or confirm the names of crewmembers or people involved in transportation accidents to the media.

It remains unclear:

  • Whether the names were given to the TV station by the NTSB intern (it was the intern’s prank) or whether the intern acknowledged the names provided by the TV station (in which case the intern was incompetent, but we don’t know whose prank it was)
  • How in the world the television station got pranked. Even if the names came directly from the NTSB intern, it seems beyond credulity that no one there noticed what they were saying. I have to imagine someone at the station was at least complicit or willfully blind in pulling off the joke.
  • Who the intern at NTSB reported to — while the TV station may have spoken to an intern, it’s unclear how the intern came to be taking media calls, what sort of training they were providing, and who failed in their supervisory duties. Here an unnamed intern is being thrown under the bus, but an NTSB staff member was presumably in charge of that intern and seems to be getting a pass (at least in terms of public blame).

The Mediaite piece identifying the culprit an an intern concludes, “my sources in the NTSB tell me they’ve identified the summer intern in question as Mike Hunt.”

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About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. “It seems beyond credulity that no one there noticed what they were saying” misses the point that in today’s instant communication age, there is as much (if not more) of a race to be first than it is to be correct. “Fact checking” some times comes down to things like “on Twitter, it was posted that…” etc. While clearly anyone with some basic common sense would know that (a) these were clearly spoof names and (b) not actually Korean names, in the race to be first, silly things like the details sometimes take a back seat.

    As to the intern, Mike Hunt, it is really a shame what will happen to him. Mike went to college with my nephew, Haywood Jablowmey.

  2. I read somewhere that it was a female intern – Amanda Huginkis.

    Can’t find her via google, though…

  3. I’m sure we’ll learn more about how this happened, but it seems possible to me that the internet thought that he/she was the one being pranked. Think about it: you’re working for the NTSB as an intern, and somebody calls and wants to confirm that the crash pilots’ names are Sum Ting Wong and Wi Tu Lo. Might you respond by saying “Yeah, that’s it” and hang up the phone?

  4. Getting uglier: @SFGate sez fake #Asiana214 pilot names came from TV station & NTSB intern acted “in good faith”

  5. This just goes to show how news stations will do anything to try and be the first to report something, I still laugh that NO ONE at the station saw the name and didn’t question it at all, like, really… Sum Ting Wrong, please… Classic prank

  6. Considering what happened on the tarmac, perhaps it might be a good idea to retitle this post?

  7. Really, I think this just puts the exclamation mark on how incredibly bad news coverage was of this incident. The “experts” they used, and now this. Fact is, better information was available via social networks than news networks. That is something that the news networks should be absolutely ashamed of.

  8. I’m sick of seeing people who don’t know what the word “racist” means describe this as racist. Stereotyping names for humor isn’t racism. This is funny; we need more of it. Lighten up, world!

  9. You’re right, Ray. While this joke is arguably in poor taste (if you’re the type of person who gets offended by jokes involving tragic events), it’s not racist. There’s a long tradition in juvenile humor of making fun of all type of names, Anglo ones included: i.e., Ima Duffus, I.P. Daily, etc. It is very unlikely that the prankster was trying to make fun of Asians; rather, he was poking fun of the ignorant, provincial white newscasters who didn’t realize what they were reading.

    What is also indisputable is that this prank was freakin’ hilarious. It is also an instant classic exposing the shallowness of TV news.

  10. A friend of my daughter told a story of her graduation from U Wisconsin. Everyone had to go on stage with an index card with their name printed on it. One person would read it into the microphone and then the person would shake the hand of the President of the University. Some young man she knew printed the following to be read:


    Of course, it was read. But like others, it is hard to fathom that no one caught this before it was aired.

  11. I thought it was funny. I agree with the poster above that the intern probably thought he was the one being pranked and responsed, “Yeah, sure” when asked to confirm those names. Not a racist joke, more like juvenile prank humor. It would be pretty much the same prank getting the news woman to report that the pilots were Mike Hunt, Mike Rotch, Dick Head, and Oliver Clothesoff.

  12. Wasn’t there an article (which was reported on CNBC) citing the NTSB that “Korean Culture” was a probably cause for the Asiana Air accident? That was certainly racist. Now we have the NTSB blaming a “summer intern” for confirming racist names on a news broadcast for the crew.

    I find this to be 2 strikes against another Obama organization. With the IRS doing the same, it’s no doubt that this PRISM Administration may have Reverend Wright in charge. Not to withstand how Obama is going non-stop after one person, a 29 year old hacker, Edward Snowden who exposed Obama violating the 4th Amendment.

    NTSB must have a series of racists there. 2 strikes for them now.

  13. I can hardly see that this is considered racist. This same type of thing happened to me constantly while living in Chile. I would be trying to speak Spanish, but say something a little bit wrong and people would crack up, as it had double meanings. They weren’t racist towards me, it was just funny! Like “I am very tired”, versus “I am very married” “cansada” versus “casada”

    In English, the phonetic sounds of these words given by the intern is funny. The fact that there was a plane crash and that 3 people died is not funny. No one is making fun of Asians, it is simply a play on words.
    People need to lighten up.

  14. Pleased to see most agree with me regarding the lack of racism, although some of you misunderstand why. It’s not the juvenile humor nor the humorous aspect that makes it non-racist. It is that racism involves accusations of inherent inferiority of a race. Stereotyping nor making fun of characteristics of a race is racist in any scenario. Joking about the sound of Asian names is no more racist than teasing about Africans having big lips or Irish people having no lips. Had the new segment implied that Koreans are stupid people by nature and that’s why they crashed, then it would be racist. That’s not what happened here.

    @Ed – To my last point – suggesting that Korean culture could have played a role is not the same as saying Korean people are inferior, so is not racist. Some cultures have behavioral patterns or standards that could certainly play into increased or decreased odds of pilot communication and the like.

  15. Ray Pist seems to think he is the ultimate arbiter as to what constitutes racism.

  16. No, racism is when you make comments about people because of their “race.” Joking about physical features common to people of a certain ethnic background is racist.

  17. Ray Pist,

    For the NTSB, a US government organization, to suggest the Korean culture caused an airline crash, based on probable cause is:

    1) Racist
    2) Out of line
    3) Has no foundation
    4) Without preponderance.
    5) Reason and action for immediate firing.


    6) A “Bang Ding Ow” release from the same government organization.

    Typical racism from the “anti-business” Obama Administration. Thanks.

  18. I’m still not understanding how these names are viewed as racist. If that is the case, then the fact that the timeless James Bond film Goldfinger is in fact just as wrong, because Pussy Galore (played by Honor Blackman). The name follows the standard anglo-saxon form, but clearly has an alternative meaning, just like the “reported” names of the pilots.

  19. I just want to cum out and say that I laugh almost uncuntrollably every time I read those names. That intern should apply for a job with the Tonight show or something.

  20. To say that generally speaking blacks can run faster than whites is not racist. It is fact.

    To say that generally speaking whites have a superior intelligence than blacks is not racist. It is fact.

    To say that some blacks are smarter than some whites is fact.

    To say that some whites can run faster than some blacks is fact.

    To DISCRIMINATE against someone because of their race IS RACIST. Not hiring someone because of their race – that is racism.

    The assailant is approximately 4’9″ – oh gosh can’t say that – making fun of a person’s height!!!! Really?

    The assailant is a male – whoa – singling out a sex – that is sexist. Really?

    It is NOT racism that some idiosyncrasies of a race or language sound funny in another language.
    It is fact. The reason why Sum Ting Wong is funny is that we believe it is a plausible Korean name. If a Korean named Sum Ting Wong were to win a tennis match, would we be required to say “the winner of the match has a name that is racist and therefore can’t be said on this broadcast”?

    Regarding the NTSB reporting about Korean culture maybe contributing to the crash, this is not racist. This is again FACT. Not saying it was but it is WELL KNOWN that many country’s cultures – a more junior person, especially in the cockpit, must NEVER question a decision of a superior. It is grounds for being fired. If the poster above actually researched they would have known this. Several accidents were reported in the TV series Mayday (a TV show that documents airplane crashes and their cause). The largest airplane crash in history – two 747’s on the Canary Islands was caused by this. If you are junior, you shut up even if you think/know the captain’s decision or actions are wrong even to the point that it might cost you your life. So before posting try doing a little research.

    Was there any discrimination involved in this joke – no. Was anyone deprived because of it – no.

    It might have been in bad taste due to the deaths but using that morality bar, all Hitler jokes would be in bad taste due to the atrocities associated with him.

    As to whether it is funny or not – each of us finds different things funny. Personally I thought this was hilarious – why – because the names ARE believable. If the names provided to the TV station had been SHxxHEAD, or ASSHxxx they would not have been reported as those names don’t sound Korean. Sum Ting Wong, Wi Too Lo etc do.

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