SAN FRANCISCO: An Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 passenger jet crashed and burst into flames on Saturday as it landed short of the runway at San Francisco International Airport, killing two people and injuring 182 others.
Flight 214 had 307 people—291 passengers and 16 crew—on board when it left Seoul. The aircraft apparently struck a rocky area at the water’s edge short of the runway at the airport—a major international hub, especially for flights to and from Asia.
“It is incredible and very lucky that we have so many survivors. But there are still many that are critically injured,” said San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee who also sent condolences to the families of those killed and hurt.
A survivor described the terrifying moments as the Boeing 777 smashed into the ground, flinging flight attendants out the back as the tail broke off.
“Right when it appeared to coast for the landing, . . . (he) sped up, like the pilot knew he was short,” Elliott Stone told CNN.
“And then the back end just hit, and flies up in the air, and everybody’s head goes up to the ceiling. And then it just kind of drifts for a little bit, for a good 300 yards and then tips over. Fire starts,” he explained.
He said he was able to evacuate safely, sitting in the middle of the plane, but the flight attendants sitting in the back “got hammered—because we landed short.”
“And then they all fell out—and it was just the most terrible thing I’ve seen,” Stone said.
He said around 20 minutes after the crash, he and fellow passengers noticed “another five bodies like 500 yards away that nobody saw,” adding they alerted emergency workers, but were frustrated at the response.
“We were yelling at people, yelling at firefighters. Get over here. They were just lagging hard. I don’t know.”
Witnesses on the ground also described watching the Boeing 777 smash hard into the ground.
“We saw it hit, the tail broke off almost immediately upon hitting what appeared to be the end of the runway. It kind of did a bellyflop landing,” Jennifer Sorgen told CNN.
“There wasn’t a huge explosion of fire, but this was definitely fire, lots of smoke.”
An airplane mechanic who witnessed the crash from the airfield also saw the smoke.
“It landed straight, then went to the side and then all you saw was smoke coming off it,” Adrian John Mirabueno told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I was scared for the families, and to tell the truth I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Another onlooker said he saw a fire before the plane hit the runway.
“You heard a pop and you immediately saw a large, brief fireball that came from underneath the aircraft,” Anthony Castorani, who saw the flight land from a nearby hotel, told CNN.
Others clarified the plane went into a flat spin around on the ground, as opposed to flipping over.
Helicopter footage showed a trail of debris and blackened pavement starting from the seawall at the very edge of the runway to where the plane finally came to rest in the dirt between the runway and a taxiway.
Amateur pictures and videos of the wreckage were immediately circulating on social media sites, including one from David Eun, a tech executive, who said he survived the crash.
Eun described the immediate aftermath, posting on the Path social media site, “Fire and rescue people all over the place. They’re evacuating the injured. Haven’t felt this way since 9/11. Trying to help people stay calm. Deep breaths . . .”
The plane, Asiana flight 214, was flying from Seoul to San Francisco when it hit around 11:30 am local time (1830 GMT).
The plane’s tail “hit the runway and the aircraft veered to the left out of the runway,” South Korea’s transportation ministry said in a statement on Sunday from Seoul.
It was the first fatal crash involving an Asiana passenger plane since June 1993, when an Asiana Boeing 737 crashed into a mountain in South Korea, killing 68.
“At this time there are two fatalities,” the city’s fire chief Joanne Hayes-White said.
One of the two dead “carried a Chinese passport,” and the nationality of the other victim was unclear, said Lee Jeong-gwan, the foreign ministry’s ambassador for overseas Koreans and consular affairs, told reporters, quoting a US forensic in touch with South Korean officials.
No one was unaccounted for, US officials said, revising downwards an earlier estimate of dozens. The remainder of those on board, 123, were uninjured.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said there was no indication that terrorism was to blame for the crash.
Asiana Airlines’ CEO said the Boeing 777 was only seven years old and had no known mechanical problems.
“We purchased this airplane in March 2006 . . . currently we understand that there are no engine or mechanical problems,” Yoon Young-doo said.
South Korea’s transport ministry said separately both the dead were female, born in 1996 and 1997. Both passengers were seated at the back of the plane.
Yoon said the crew had made an in-flight broadcast as usual, “asking passengers to buckle up for landing. There was no emergency alarm”.
He said one pilot had more than 10,000 flying hours, and the other more than 9,000.
“Our pilots strictly comply with aviation rules,” the CEO said.
“Please accept my deepest apology,” the CEO said, bowing in front of TV cameras at the press conference. “We’ll make our utmost efforts to cope with the tragedy.”
Among the passengers were Chinese, followed by 77 South Koreans, 61 Americans, one Japanese, three Indians, three Canadians, one French, one Vietnamese, three others with unidentified nationality and 16 crew.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye offered sympathies to victims and their relatives.