Friday, July 26, 2013

Bubonic plague shuts LA park

There may be rising concerns amongst residents of Los Angeles after a national park was closed after a squirrel was found to have been infected with the bubonic plague.

Los Angeles County health officials confirmed this week that a trapped ground squirrel tested positive for plague, and as a precaution parts of the Angeles National Forest near Wrightwood had been closed.


"Plague is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted to humans through the bites of infected fleas, which is why we close affected campgrounds and recreational areas as a precaution while preventive measures are taken to control the flea population," Jonathan E. Fielding, head of the health department, said in the advisory.

"It is important for the public to know that there have only been four cases of human plague in Los Angeles County residents since 1984, none of which were fatal," he said.

The ground squirrel population in the San Gabriel Mountains has been known to have the plague, and officials said squirrel burrows in the affected area will be dusted for fleas.


Officials also advised those visiting areas nearby the Broken Blade, Twisted Arrow and Pima Loops to take precautions, such as not feeding wild animals and preventing pets from getting fleas.

In the advisory, officials said "transmission of plague through flea bites causes bubonic plague, with symptoms including enlargement of lymph glands (buboes) near the flea bite and rapid onset of fever and chills."

"Untreated bubonic plague can progress to infection of the blood, or rarely, the lungs, causing pneumonic plague," the advisory said, adding that all types of the plague can be fatal if not treated, though patients generally respond well to antibiotic therapy.

Historical lessons

Bubonic plague is also known as the Black Death, or more simply the 'plague', and was responsible for killing at least 25 million Europeans during the Middle Ages.

The Black Death originated in or near China and spread by way of the Silk Road or by ship. It may have reduced world population from an estimated 450 million down to 350–375 million by the year 1400.

Biological warfare

Some of the earliest instances of biological warfare were said to have been products of the plague. Armies in the 14th century were recorded catapulting diseased corpses over the walls of towns and villages to spread the pestilence.

More recently, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service bombed Ningbo in China with fleas carrying the bubonic plague. During the Khabarovsk War Crime Trials, the accused, such as Major General Kiyashi Kawashima, testified that, in 1941, some 40 members of Unit 731 air-dropped plague-contaminated fleas on Changde in Hunan province, China. These operations caused epidemic plague outbreaks killing an estimated 7,643 Chinese.

More reports: BBC / Sky News / LA Daily News / LA Times

tvnewswatch, Kunming, Yunnan, China

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Deadly train crash in Spain leaves 77 dead

At least 77 people are now known to have died and more than 100 injured in a train derailment at Santiago de Compostela in north-western Spain. The crash happened at 20:41 local time [18:41 GMT] on Wednesday evening and while the cause has yet to be established some Spanish media reports suggested the train may have been travelling at more than twice the speed limit around a curve [El Mundo - Spanish].

It is believed to be the worst rail crash in Spain for more than 40 years. Four carriages overturned in Wednesday's incident, wagons were crushed together, forcing parts of the carriages on top of one another whilst one was ripped apart by the force of the crash.

"I was at home and I heard something like a clap of thunder, It was very loud and there was lots of smoke," said 62-year-old Maria Teresa Ramos, who lived just metres from where the accident happened. Others spoke of bodies being strewn everywhere.

State-owned train operator Renfe said in a statement that 218 passengers and an unspecified number of staff were on board the eight-carriage train. Both drivers of the train were said to have been unhurt in the crash. One of them was reportedly seen wandering dazed among the dead saying, "I've derailed, what am I going to do, what am I going to do?"

The crash comes less than two weeks after another deadly crash in France left 6 dead [tvnewswatch]

More reports: BBC / Sky / CNN / France24 / Guardian / Daily Mail / WSJ

tvnewswatch, Kunming, Yunnan, China

Google launches new Nexus 7 & TV streaming device

Google has launched a new Nexus 7 with an upgraded version of its Android operating system. The lighter, and slimmer device is said to be faster and more powerful than the first Nexus 7 which launched in 2012.

The new Asus-built device is slightly smaller [200×114×8.65 mm] compared to the first Nexus 7 [198.5×120×10.56 mm] though the screen area covers about the same area. It is also 50 grams lighter than the original Nexus 7, weighing in at 290 grams.

Aside of the physical attributes, it is the technical aspects which really shine through. The new device has a screen resolution higher than any in its class, boasting 323 pixels per inch. That is significantly higher than the iPad Mini's 163ppi and the 7" Kindle Fire HD's 216ppi. In fact the new Nexus 7 now has the world's highest resolution screen offering almost double the pixels per inch than the iPad mini despite being around £100 cheaper.

Given that it is priced much lower than its main competitors, Google could increase its market share even more than it has done thus far. However, there are some who feel that the new device will not necessarily see an increased take-up.

"I am not convinced that ordinary consumers will respond better to this tablet than the last one," said Jason Jenkins, from technology website CNET. "Apple has established such momentum, Google's real challenge isn't just making a better tablet than Apple, it's persuading ordinary people to care that it makes one at all."

Sharpest tablet yet

Nonetheless the new Nexus 7 tablet, both in price, technical specifications and adaptability, still rises above the competition [Comparison of tablet computers / ZDNet].

The 2nd generation Nexus 7 sports a 1.2 MP front-facing camera and a 5.0 MP rear-facing camera and supports 1080p video recording. It is based on a 1.5 GHz quad core Snapdragon S4 processor by Qualcomm, with 2 GB RAM.

While the technical specs are similar or comparable to Apple's iPad mini, it is Android which offers users greater flexibility.

Just as with Android 4.2, Android 4.3 allows users to create several accounts on the same device but also allows multi-user restricted profiles which is particularly useful for families as it allows access to limited content. Android 4.3 also adds Bluetooth Low-Energy support. In addition the tablet has Open GL-ES 3.0 which adds much improved graphics for games.

4G version

As well as a 16GB and 32 GB WiFi version there is also a 32 GB 4G LTE version, though this may only be available in the US for now [CNET].

As for the price, consumers will have to pay a little more than they did for the first Nexus 7. In the US the new Nexus 7 will cost $229 [£149] for the basic version with 16GB of storage. The 32GB WiFi model has been set at $269 [£175] and the 32GB LTE model at $349 [£227].

While no official prices have been announced, it has been reported that the price may be slightly higher when it becomes available in the UK on 13th September with a price of £199.99 for the 16GB WiFi only version and £239.99 for the 32GB WiFi version. If true, this may cause some ire amongst consumers across the pond [BBC / Guardian / Daily Mail / CNET / TMO News].

Target audience

The new Nexus 7 is particularly being targeted at a young audience with both gaming and education being specifically highlighted during the Breakfast with Sundar Pichai event [YouTube - duration: 1 hour]. Google announced plans for a number of changes to its Play store with the introduction of an educational section [CNET / Slashgear / PCMag]

The Internet giant has teamed up with several publishers of textbooks and educational material which will become available in August. Five major publishers, Pearson, Wiley, Macmillian Higher Education, McGraw-Hill and Cengage Learning will offer books in the new Google Play section. The books will be available both for purchase or hired for 6 months at a fraction of the cost of the book. And while Google did not give an indication of price it said it would rent books at up to 80% cheaper than regular retail prices. This could prove particularly attractive to students on a budget.

Chromecast TV streaming

The biggest announcement at the hour long presentation was Google's latest attempt to gain ground in the television industry. Previous attempts to bring the Internet content into the living room have all but failed.

In 2010 the company launched Google TV as it joined forces with Intel, Sony, and Logitech [The Register]. But the service was blocked by several TV networks and suffered greatly from requiring consumers to buy expensive hardware. Another partnership with Sony brought the introduction of a £200 set-top box, but that too was poorly received, likely because of the reticence by many households to have yet another box attached to their television.

Then there was the Nexus Q, a ball-shaped hardware device launched last year at Google's I/O developer conference. These $300 units were so unpopular that Google ended up dropping the price to nothing and just sending them out free to those who had already placed an order.

With many people already possessing either a cable, digital terrestrial receiver or satellite box and perhaps a DVD player, a simpler solution was needed. And with Google's new Chromecast dongle, it could not be any simpler. And priced at only $35 [£25] the device is likely to attract far more consumer interest.

The dongle is plugged into a television's HDMI port, and allows users to stream media directly from the cloud, through a WiFi connection but controlled from almost any smartphone, tablets or computer [Sky News / CNNEngadget / The Register / Wired / Gizmodo].

Content and compatibility

Apps that work with the device will show a Chromecast button, the pressing of which sends the content to the television. Only YouTube, Netflix, Google Music and Pandora was demonstrated, likely because there are few applications which will have had time to incorporate the facility. However, in time this could change with all video and audio streaming services updating their apps or web interfaces accordingly.

Even with the current content limited to YouTube and Netflix, there is much to be enjoyed through such a small, cheap and versatile device. Furthermore, early buyers receive three months of free Netflix with the purchase.

Subscriptions of course may be required to use with certain content providers, but there is nonetheless a great deal of free content on the web. As for compatibility, Google states Chromecast works with WiFi-enabled Android 2.3+ smartphones and tablets, iOS 6.0+ iPhones, iPads, and iPods, Chrome for Mac® and Chrome for Windows® as well as. The last point is one of contention. By specifically stating that it works with the Chromebook Pixel, it seems that the device might not be compatible with other Chromebooks, which would be a disappointing setback for those having bought such a device, or indeed a disincentive for those considering such a purchase. A power cord is also required, though it could also be powered by a USB lead from the TV itself.

But the biggest drawback amid this excitement is that it is only available in the US with no specific launch date announced for other markets.

tvnewswatch, Kunming, Yunnan, China

Monday, July 15, 2013

Travelling with a Nexus 7 in China

Travelling with any device that needs an Internet connection is troublesome anywhere outside one's home country. But in a country like China there are many problems and obstacles, particularly if you are reliant on Google services and Western social media platforms. This article explores the problems encountered whilst using a Google Nexus 7 tablet.

WiFi reliant

Being a WiFi only device, unless one purchased the more expensive 3G device, one is reliant on finding a good WiFi network. In some areas of the country this is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Most hotels only have a wired Internet connection in their rooms, and as such any WiFi device, whether it be an iPhone, Android phone, iPad, Android tablet or Chromebook, is effectively nothing more than an expensive paperweight.

There are some apps one can use offline. Many games, be it Angry Birds, chess or checkers, can of course be played without an Internet connection. But there are a great many apps that are completely useless without web access. And in China, because of Internet filtering and censorship, even a good WiFi access point does not solve one's problems as regards Internet connectivity.

Browser issues

Open a web page in China and, unless going through a VPN, access may well be blocked. Using the built in Chrome browser on the Nexus 7 has its own special issues. All searches are conducted through Google. And while search results are displayed most of the time, many links fail as they utilize a Google redirect, a system Google uses to track how many people arrive at a particular site via its search engine. Many websites use redirects, but in China, Google redirects can often create issues.

These issues stem from a sour relationship that exists between China and Google following the battle between the web giant and China's authorities over censorship and cyberattacks on Google's systems in late 2009 and early 2010. Google directly accused  China of attempting to hack into its servers and attempt to obtain the keys which would allow access to users' Gmail accounts. Of course China denied these attacks, and after a long drawn out dispute Google moved its search engine from the Chinese mainland and redirected all traffic from its .cn address to its Hong Kong servers.

This snub to Chinese authorities was not accepted happily, and while many Google services were already blocked, others soon came under attack. Google search became more problematic and GMail was at times almost inaccessible.

For the most part search has returned to normal, though sensitive search topics will still lead to interrupted connection. GMail too can create problems and is often slow to load, though on Android devices the issues are less apparent.


Most people make use of Apps, whether accessed on a tablet or mobile phone. And many can prove very useful when travelling. Social networks can help keep one up to date on news, or enable friends to keep in touch. For visitors to China this is extremely problematic.

Most western social networks are almost entirely inaccessible. Thus Twitter or any third party client Apps are virtually useless. Foursquare is also inaccessible, though holes occasionally appear in the Great Firewall that allow access without a VPN.

And it goes without saying that Google+ is entirely blocked. This in itself is particularly annoying since it is tied into Google Maps. Google Local replaced Places some time ago and became tied into Google+. Reviews became real name only, and users could upload pictures as well as rate the place of interest. But while a search for a restaurant will bring up results no further information can be gleaned from Google Maps without a VPN since reviews and other information is all tied into Google+. Even beyond this annoyance are the issues with mapping generally.

Mapping issues

Google Maps is perhaps one of the most used Apps when travelling, and the facility to have offline maps stored on the device is a bonus. But even with a clear map, there are still problems.

It is hard to say what the reason is, but using Google Maps in China could leave you lost simply because the GPS signal is often misaligned with the correct mapping location. On one day the GPS locator may show one exactly outside the restaurant one is standing. The next day it could show the user in an adjacent street. There is no consistency in terms of where you are either.

Maps used by Google are supplied by Chinese firm AutoNavi, and for all intents and purposes they are highly accurate. However, in many parts of China the GPS icon on an Android device using Google Maps will often show the user as being in a location up to a kilometre from one's correct position.

The reason for this can only be guessed at. There have been accusations by Chinese authorities that western companies, such as Coca Cola in a recent case, as well as individuals have been using GPS devices to illegally log information. While only speculation, it could be that authorities use GPS jammers to interfere with GPS enabled devices. Such devices have been known to be used by North Korea who severely affected the workings of South Korea's Internal Airports in May last year [ArsTechnica]. In parts of Europe smaller devices have been used to circumvent GPS monitoring of stolen vehicles [Guardian].

It could be that maps supplied by AutoNavi are misaligned to the GPS coordinates, though this does not seem to tally with certain anomalies observed while using the Nexus 7 in China. On arriving in Beijing the GPS showed a discrepancy putting the device some 200 metres to the west, yet the following day the discrepancy was much reduced to only a few metres. In Kunming, the discrepancy was far more obvious showing the device more than a kilometre from the actual location. Yet some 100 km south of Yunnan's capital the GPS locator showed as being almost 100% correct. Returning to Kunming weeks later and the discrepancy was gone. Coincidence? Anywhere else in the world perhaps. But this is China, where nothing is ever quite what it seems.

New Google Maps

The new Maps update has made things a little trickier too since offline mapping is not so easy to organise [Telegraph]. And as already mentioned the tie in to Google+ does complicate things. Saying that, before the update, reviews could not be entered without a VPN and information about the place of interest could not be seen. Since the Maps update reviews can be entered and items starred, though of course one still needs an Internet connection. There is still a flaw in that reviews cannot be seen when clicking on a landmark, only when accessing via one's own review page. However this seems to be a Google Maps anomaly rather than an issue with China's Internet filtering.

Google Play

There does however appear to be issues with Google's application platform when accessed in China. There have long been issues with regional blocks, more to do with Google than host countries. Apps available in one country would simply be unavailable in another. For mobile phone users one could simply swap the SIM card and Apps available in one's home country could then be updated or downloaded.

But with the Nexus 7 tablet there is of course no SIM [unless one has the 3G version]. However, this does not appear to create a problem. Apps available in the UK are still available, and updates download perfectly - most of the time. Here is the crunch. Whether it be a phone, with a foreign SIM, or the Nexus 7, some Apps simply won't update or download in China. Only by connecting to a VPN will the likes of Facebook, Facebook Messenger and Twitter successfully update. And of course one can only use them by connecting to a VPN anyway.

Blocked Internet radio

Other Apps download but are regionally blocked. TuneIn Radio is a hugely popular Internet radio App, but the providers have effectively kowtowed to Chinese authorities and only allowed local, i.e. Chinese, stations playable through the application [TechinAsia]. For travellers wanting to catch up on the news at home this is of particular annoyance. In fact without a VPN there are few ways to get information from the outside world. The BBC radio App sometimes works, and sometimes it simply fails to load. In fact the BBC World Service has been almost completely blocked in all its forms. While one may be lucky with one ISP, more often than not an attempt to stream any BBC channel over the Internet, either through an App or from the BBC website, will come up against a brick wall - or rather the Great Firewall. Even if you possess a shortwave radio, the BBC WS is inaccessible since transmissions were jammed earlier this year [The Register / Guardian / BBC / BBC Statement]

As for watching streaming video or television, this can be very hit or miss. There are some apps that allow the watching international channels like CNN or BBC World, though one needs a good, stable broadband connection to maintain the link. Most video streams are however regionally blocked and a VPN is needed, though this can slow the Internet so much as to effectively make it impossible to watch any streamed show.

However, audio podcasts can be a suitable alternative to the above restrictions. Also, if one uses a laptop in conjunction with one's Nexus device, Google Music can make life just that little bit more comfortable.

Google Music

Google's Music service service appears to be one of the few things provided by the Internet giant, unaffected by China's censorship machine. And for Nexus 7 users the service can be a Godsend. Anything dropped into one's allocated Music folder on an Internet connected PC ends up on Google's servers and available across all Android devices in the same account. Thus a BBC podcast, downloaded on a PC and dropped into the Music folder, will soon be available on one's Nexus 7 - given all devices are somehow connect to the Internet.

After playing the selected clip on the Nexus 7 via an Internet connection, it will also be available offline. One does have to check the "automatically cache while playing" box in settings however.

Google Books

While musical entertainment might be less of an issue, trying to buy, read or download a book can be real headache. Offline books will of course be accessible but even pre-purchased items cannot be read without logging on to a VPN. It is difficult to say whether this is a regional blocking issue or a Great Firewall issue. However, it is advisable that one makes any book you wish to read on the fly available offline when a good Internet connection and VPN access is accessible.

Purchases of Google Movies, and now even TV shows, as well as Magazines also create issues. The main issue with purchasing anything on Google Play is a regional one. Even while Google Play may open in China without a VPN films are simply unavailable there as the service has not been rolled out to all four corners of the world.

By using a VPN one can circumvent this issue, but there are still problems. Coming from the UK one may have some already purchased movies, which as Google says are accessible across all signed-in devices. But here comes the catch. A movie cannot be watched in China, because essentially it is served via YouTube which is blocked. However, connecting to a VPN server other than one's home country will bring up an error or won't even recognise you've made the purchase and suggest you pay to watch or buy the movie in the connected country's currency.

Thus, just as with books, it is advisable to 'pin' [download] any films to the device before arrival. Any purchases made whilst travelling are best made whilst connected through a VPN to one's own country, but don't expect to be able to watch or read them until back home!

Google Translation

Anyone stuck in a country with only a small grasp of the language will feel somewhat lost without some form of translation aid or phrase book. And for those with an Android device translation is made so much easier with Google's offline language packs [Note that Apple devices do not support offline translation].

But there are a few pitfalls. The first is that with non Romanised alphabet based languages there is no help with pronunciation. So an English to Chinese translation will only give Chinese characters. Thus this needs to be shown to the person with whom one is conversing rather than read to them.

Furthermore for good two way translation one really needs a Chinese character recognition App. One good input method is the SCUT gPen App, a handwriting input method released by SCUT-HCII Laboratory of South China University of Technology.

It can be a little slow and cumbersome to flip between input methods and swap between languages, but a conversation can be achieved with a little patience.

For single word translation, Pleco Chinese Dictionary is perhaps the best free example. Note that both Google's offline language packs and Pleco's database are quite large, so they could eat a large chunk of memory.

Anomalies and other issues

Most problems associated with using the Nexus 7, and indeed any WiFi only and Internet connected device, in China has more to do with connectivity, the lack thereof, and the Great Firewall.

A VPN will often solve problems associated with the latter, though one has first to find a WiFi connection. But many VPN services are also unstable and can themselves be targeted by Chinese censors with DNS poisoning attacks.

Even without a VPN, the Nexus 7 is a useful device to have, given one has some periodic access to a WiFi connection.

Having cached maps across parts of an intended route one can keep track of one's journey. My Tracks also works well on a mobile phone even without a data connection, and the information can later be uploaded to Google Drive and Google Maps, once connected through a VPN to the Internet.

While a VPN is needed to upload to Google Drive, bizarrely Instant Upload appears to works without one. Any photos or videos taken on a mobile phone or tablet seem to upload without issue. Even more bizarre, images and video can even be shared on Google+ without a VPN, though only images can be viewed across all devices without jumping the Firewall. Videos can't be viewed since they are hosted on YouTube, which is blocked in China.

Another interesting feature is that pictures uploaded to Google+ seamlessly create a folder on all device's gallery and stored for offline viewing. This is a boon for those wanting to show that selection of pictures to friends later at a restaurant when an Internet connection might not be available.

While an Internet connection makes translation easier, especially in that it offers pinyin, the offline facility is indispensable at times.


There is certainly a case for investing in a solid VPN service, which is relatively easy to set up on the Nexus 7 or other Android device. The most important issue concerning this is that of updating Apps, some of which will not do so without breaking through the Great Firewall. By not updating Apps, one could potentially leave oneself open to malware threats given that updates sometimes deal with security flaws.

Beyond that, other aspects are an inconvenience or irritation. By planning ahead one should have enough reading material cached in Google Books, a good collection of offline music and even a film or two to watch, if space allows. One note of interest to users of Flixster; even if one has downloaded a movie in connection with one's Ultraviolet/Flixster account it will not play without an Internet connection. Downloaded Google movies will play perfectly without any Internet connection.

Even though WiFi is hard to find across the country, for short excursions the Nexus 7 is a far better companion than lugging a large or heavy laptop from place to place. And in respect to its use as a translation device it outdoes the iPad and other Apple devices for offline translation. Furthermore, the battery life is excellent, and by keeping screen time to a minimum the Nexus 7 can survive a full day of various tasks including translation, map reading and playing music. 

In short, even in a net restricted country like China, I would not be without my Nexus 7
[Updated 08/08/2013].

tvnewswatch, Kunming, Yunnan, China

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Deadly train crash in France leaves 6 dead

At least six people have been killed and more than 20 injured after a train leapt off the tracks and careered across a busy platform at Bretigny-sur-Orge, south of Paris.

The intercity train had only just left Paris and was heading towards Limoges when it derailed, crashing into a station platform at 17:14 local time on Friday [15:14 GMT].

Some 385 passengers were on board when the train crashed, according to SNCF, France's national state-owned railway company. The station platforms were also crowded at the start of a holiday weekend.


Many passengers were left trapped inside carriages and had to cut free by rescue workers before being transported to hospital, some by air ambulance. With recovery of the wreckage still taking place into Saturday, and with some of the victims having sustained serious injuries, it is feared the death toll may rise further. Interior minister Manuel Valls said that while only six people had been killed, he added that nine people were gravely injured and warned the number of dead could rise.

Shock & solidarity

French President Francois Hollande, who visited the scene late Friday, expressed his shock at the accident and called on everyone to think about the victims and their families.

Guillaume Pepy, president of SNCF, also visited the scene of the tragedy and spoke of the company's "solidarity" with the victims. "The first thought we have is solidarity towards the victims and their families and a very great emotion because rail disasters are something that affects everyone in our country." He said there would also be an investigation to determine the cause. "When there is a derailment, this can be either the rail or the wheel. The investigation will determine this."


That investigation has already begun and authorities have said the station will be closed for at least three days while forensic examinations of the scene are are carried out to help determine what led to the derailment. The crash is the most serious incident to have occurred on the French railway network since the 1988 Gare de Lyon train accident which left 56 dead.

Read more: BBC / Sky News / CNN / BFMTV [French] / Wikipedia

tvnewswatch, Kunming, Yunnan, China

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Boeing 777 safety questions after SF crash

Safety concerns have once again been heighten concerning the Boeing 777 after a San Francisco bound plane crashed as it came into land at the city's main international airport.

Two people were declared dead following the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214. The plane, which had flown from Seoul in South Korea with 291 passengers and 16 crew on board, appeared to strike the runway as it came into land just before 11:30 local time [18:30 GMT].

The cause of the crash was not immediately known, but there will be questions as to whether the plane's fly-by-wire systems were at fault or if a mechanical system failed. There may too be questions over what caused the fire which tore through the main fuselage. Weather conditions were fine and there was little wind, so there are strong indications that there was a fault with the aircraft itself.

Meanwhile authorities discounted a terrorist attack and handed the case to civil aviation investigators.

Eyewitness accounts

One witness to the crash, Ki Siadatan, said the plane "looked out of control" as it descended into San Francisco International Airport. Watching the events unfold from the balcony of his home in the Millbrae area of San Francisco, he told the BBC there were seemed to be two explosions, "We heard a 'boom' and saw the plane disappear into a cloud of dust and smoke," he told the broadcaster. "There was then a second explosion."

Some passengers on board the aircraft seemed unperturbed by the incident. Passenger David Eun tweeted a picture of people jumping out of the plane's emergency inflatable slides and wrote, "I just crash landed at SFO. Tail ripped off. Most everyone seems fine. I'm ok. Surreal..."

Eun, who described himself as a "digital media guy" and "frequent flier", added, "Fire and rescue people all over the place. They're evacuating the injured. Haven't felt this way since 9/11."

However, several dozen people were injured but most were described as stable by health authorities. Rescue teams initially took 49 people deemed to be in a serious condition to nearby hospitals, officials said, but their condition was later described not to be life threatening.


Of the 291 passengers and 16 crew on board, 141 were Chinese, 77 were South Koreans and 61 were US citizens, according to the airline. CCTV News in China said there was also one Japanese national on board.

The two confirmed fatalities were Chinese citizens, according to South Korea's Transport Ministry. Both were young girls and were said to have been found on the runway. The high number of Chinese nationals on board, many of them students and their teachers, drew a stronger than usual interest from Chinese media. China's CCTV-13 Chinese language news station was providing almost saturation coverage throughout the day while other stations made the incident their top story.

Safety record

The twin-engine Boeing 777 has a relatively good safety record as a long-haul aircraft and is used by many major carriers. Nonetheless the aircraft has a short flight history, only coming into service in 1995. The plane involved in Saturday's incident [HL7742] was delivered  to Asiana, South Korea's second-largest airline, in March 2006.

As of 2013, the 777 had been in eight aviation occurrences, including three hull-loss accidents, and three hijackings. The type's first hull-loss occurred on January 17, 2008, when British Airways Flight 38, a 777-200ER with Rolls-Royce Trent 895 engines flying from Beijing to London, crash-landed approximately 300 metres short of Heathrow Airport's runway 27L and slid onto the runway's threshold. There were 47 injuries and no fatalities. The impact damaged the landing gear, wing roots, and engines, and the aircraft was written off. Upon investigation, the accident was blamed on ice crystals from the fuel system clogging the fuel-oil heat exchanger [FOHE]. In 2009, air accident investigators called for a redesign of this component on the Trent 800 series engine. Redesigned fuel oil heat exchangers were installed in British Airways' 777s by October 2009. It is not known if Asiana's fleet was also refitted however.

Two other minor momentary losses of thrust with Trent 895 engines occurred in February and November 2008. The National Transportation Safety Board [NTSB] investigators concluded that, just as on BA38, the loss of power was caused by ice in the fuel clogging the fuel-oil heat exchanger. As a result, the heat exchanger was redesigned.

The type's second hull-loss occurred on July 29, 2011, when an EgyptAir 777-200ER registered as SU-GBP suffered a cockpit fire while parked at the gate at Cairo International Airport. The plane was successfully evacuated with no injuries, and airport fire teams extinguished the fire. The aircraft sustained structural, heat, and smoke damage, and was written off. Investigators focused on a possible electrical fault with a supply hose in the cockpit crew oxygen system.

Saturday's crash was the third hull loss of a Boeing 777. The incident also marked the first fatal crash involving a Boeing 777 jet.

Focus of investigation

While the investigation will undoubtedly focus on engine failure, the fly-by-wire system may also be under some scrutiny. Deemed safe by most aviation experts, there are concerns that electronic failures could result in catastrophe. Aircraft systems may be quadruplexed, with four independent channels, to prevent loss of signals in the case of failure of one or even two channels. Nonetheless, something that could interfere with one system could, at least theoretically, interfere with them all [Wikipedia].

Electromagnetic interference could be of particular concern to electrical systems on a plane. Even though many systems are shielded, airlines strictly advise against the use of mobile phones and other electronic devices for fears they could affect a plane's sensitive electronic systems.

Should the use of cell-phones or other electronic devices prove to be a contributory cause, passengers may find themselves having to pack such items in their stowed luggage in the future. Even if the risk is small, many passengers ignore warning to refrain using their phones before the plane has taxied to the gate. It is not uncommon to see passengers switching on their phones even before the plane has landed and sending texts to waiting friends or relatives.

Flight boxes should at least explain any technical problems. There is however the cause and rapid spread of fire throughout the fuselage to be investigated. One potential cause, given the contained area where the fire damage existed, is the ignition of duty-free alcohol contained in overhead lockers.

Alcoholic beverages were considered to be a contributory cause to a fire which engulfed Korean Air Flight 801 after it crashed on approach to Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport, in the United States in August 1997.

It may well be that in the future, strong spirits might be banned from passengers' carry on baggage. An international agreement should perhaps be established before any such ban such that passengers be allowed to purchase duty free drink at their final destination. Even then such restrictions may prove unpopular as some airports may provide only limited choices.

Read more: BBC / Sky News / CNN / Telegraph

Update: A third schoolgirl died on the Friday following the crash bringing the death toll to three [Reuters]

tvnewswatch, Kunming, Yunnan, China