Tags: Plane | Crash | Asiana | SFO

Plane Crashes While Attempting to Land at San Francisco International

Saturday, 06 Jul 2013 03:22 PM

By Paul Scicchitano

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A Boeing 777 aircraft with 291 passengers aboard crashed and burst into flames while attempting to land at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday and officials said at least two people were killed and 182 injured.

Officials said they had accounted for all passengers and crew as of 7 p.m. local time. Despite the horrific images from the scene, a total of 123 people did not require tranport to hospitals.

"We observed multiple numbers of people coming down the shoots and actually walking to their safety which is a good thing," said San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White in describing the initial scene, adding that some 190 people were able to get to safety in that manner.

Eunice Bird Rah, told CNN that her father was aboard the aircraft and texted his account of the crash.

"The pilot tried to raise the plane at the last minute but was too late," she said, reading from her father's text. "I knew it was coming looking outside, and saw that the plane was going too low. We hit the runway from the back part of the plane and bounced very hard, lost control for a few minutes, before it was stopped."

FBI Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson confirmed that the agency has been called into the investigation but that the crash does not appear to be related to terrorism.

Firefighters and emergency crews from San Francisco, Redwood City, and San Mateo, Calif. doused the burning plane with foam, reported KTVU TV in San Francsico.

The wide-body jet was operated by Asiana Airlines based out of Seoul, South Korea. In addition to the passengers, the plane had 16 crew and staff aboard. The troubled flight originated in Shanghai China and stopped in Seoul before making its way to San Francisco for its final destination.

Of the passengers, 19 were seated in business class and 272 were in coach, according to an Asiana statement. "The majority of the passengers were comprised of 77 Korean citizens, 141 Chinese citizens, 61 US citizens, one Japanese citizen, etc. for a total of 291 people."

Witnesses began posting amateur video of the smoking aircraft within minutes of the crash at 11:27 a.m. local time San Francisco's KTVU TV also posted tower audio of the crash.

All flights to and from San Francisco International were suspended for a time on Saturday but the nation's tenth busiest airport was able to open two runways by 4:30 p.m. local time. Reports said that some flights were being rerouted to nearby Oakland International.

Quoting a witness, Fox News said the landing gear appeared to come down shortly before the tail of the plane came off, causing the plane to wobble. The aircraft is believed to have spun around before coming to rest near a runway.

The plane appeared to be largely intact based on the initial video from the scene though  heavy damage to the roof and tail were clearly visible.

"San Francisco is a very capable airport in terms of emergency response and everything else," Dr. Vernon Gross, a former NTSB member under the Reagan administration, told Fox. "If the aircraft is integral and still in one piece — which apparently it is, that bodes well i think . . . Egress is always difficult, particularly if you've had a long flight and you've got elderly or you've got infirm people —  or you have tired people to get them out of the aircraft, depending on how much warning they had."

He added that it is unusual for the tail to become dislodged in flight "unless there was something that exploded inside the aircraft to break it off."

Flight 214 from Seoul to San Francisco took 10 hours and 23 minutes, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking service.

Deborah Hersman, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board told reporters outside Reagan National Airport in Washington that she and her team were leaving for the crash scene, but that it was too soon to speculate on a cause of the accident.

"We will be looking at everything. Everything’s on the table at this point," she said when asked about the possibility of pilot error. "We have to gather the facts before we reach any conclusions. NTSB’s investigations are very thorough and we will gather information and provide that information the media as soon as possible."

San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee said that "we are deeply saddened by this incident" and that a total of nine hospitals received injured passengers in and around San Francisco and nearby communities.

Rachael Kagan, a spokeswoman for San Francisco General Hospital, said four waves of patients totaling 52 people were receiving treatment at the facility as of 7 p.m. local time. She said that the most recent crash victims to arrive have been able to walk and speak for the most part. She said most of the injured spoke only Korean.

"The most injured came first," she said, noting that it would not be unusual for first responders to hold back the most seriously injured victims. "Some of them had burns. They had fractures. They had internal injuries, internal bleeding . . . also head injuries . . . we also saw spinal injuries."

Images from KTVU showed extensive fire damage to the airplane, which had lost its tail in the crash and the fire appeared to have burned through the cabin's roof,

An observer from a nearby hotel said he saw the plane cartwheel down the runway and the tail and a wing fly off.

"You heard a pop and you immediately saw a large, brief fireball that came out from underneath the aircraft," Anthony Castorani said on CNN.

"At that moment, you could see that that aircraft was again starting to lift and it began to cartwheel. The wing broke off on the left hand side. You could see the tail immediately fly off of the aircraft. As the aircraft cartwheeled, it then landed down and the other wing had broken," he said.

Asiana is a South Korean airline, second in size to national carrier Korean Air. It has recently tried to expand its presence in the United States, and joined the oneWorld alliance, anchored by American Airlines and British Airways.

The airline tweeted on Saturday, "Thank you for your concern and support at this time. We are currently investigating and will update with news as soon as possible."

Asiana added in a separate tweet: "Our thoughts and prayers are with all the passengers, and flight crew on the flight. We hope to provide you with further info asap."

The 777-200 is a long-range plane from Boeing. The twin-engine aircraft is one of the world's most popular long-distance planes, often used for flights of 12 hours or more, from one continent to another. Asiana's website says its 777s can carry between 246 to 300 passengers.

The last time a large U.S. airline lost a plane in a fatal crash was an American Airlines Airbus A300 taking off from JFK in 2001.

Smaller airlines have had crashes since then. The last fatal U.S. crash was a Continental Express flight operated by Colgan Air, which crashed into a house near Buffalo, N.Y. on Feb. 12, 2009. The crash killed all 49 people on board and one man in a house.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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