An internal joke that was never intended to make it to the news desk is reportedly at the center of a California TV station’s embarrassing on-air blunder, according to a new report Friday.

Ever since San Francisco area FOX affiliate KTVU erroneously aired the painfully obvious fake names of four pilots purported to be those of Asiana flight 214 two weeks ago, the story’s turned into a viral catastrophe with seemingly never-ending fallout.

Earlier this week, three KTVU employees were reportedly fired over the incident.  On Friday, a KTVU employee told Matthew Keys at The Desk that the four fake pilot names came from a usually reliable source.

A KTVU employee told The Desk early Thursday morning that the names — Captain Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk and Bang Ding Ow — were emailed to KTVU by a local aviation expert who has provided the station with reliable information in the past.

The source, who acknowledged working on the broadcast that contained the false report, did not want to be identified due to an ongoing investigation at the station over the origin of the names. The source also did not identify who that aviation expert was.

That report was followed by another from KOMY radio host and media blogger Rich Lieberman, who first reported the KTVU firings.  Lieberman’s source, a KTVU insider, explained that the email allegedly started out as an internal joke that was never intended to air.  The source told him “the entire affair was a ‘perfect storm’ of unintended consequences.”

That person who sent the joke e-mail; a longtime source that the station has relied on in the past as a trusted informant, is now at the heart of the investigation. It’s looking pretty simple from here: the fake, joke e-mail that wasn’t meant for anyone other than in-house laughter found its way, remarkably to the air, and thus, cost four people their jobs.

“I don’t think (the person) who sent it could ever imagine that it would have made air,” the KTVU insider told Lieberman.

A NTSB intern also lost his job over the whole ordeal, after he confirmed the fake names when KTVU contacted the agency for verification.  While these new details explain a lot, they unfortunately don’t offer any insight into how that intern “verified” the names when contacted.

Coincidentally, the same fake names were posted online in forums in the context of a joke days before the broadcast, which makes it all that much more unbelievable that the names weren’t caught by someone at the TV station as fake before making it to air.

You’ll recall that the incident also almost resulted in a lawsuit against KTVU, but Asiana airlines has since dropped that ludicrous notion.  KTVU meanwhile has been filing copyright infringement notices to try and remove the videos of the erroneous broadcast from the internet (we all know how well that will turn out).

So there you have it.

In this instance, it all allegedly started out as a stupid mistake that got too far because the media outlet was irresponsible.  But as I’ve written before, it’s a teachable moment – the whole sordid mess just goes to show how easy it would be for someone with more malicious intent to punk the media and get something far more damaging on the air.