Related Stories

SFO -- Two 16-year-old girls were killed and nearly 200 people were injured after a Boeing 777 arriving from South Korea Saturday morning clipped a sea wall, causing the plane's tail to tear off before the airliner crash-landed and burst into flames at San Francisco International Airport.

Officials said 181 people were taken to local hospitals -- 49 with serious injuries. The remainder of the plane's 307 passengers and crew had minor or no injuries, and all have been accounted for after the crash.

Asiana Airlines flight 214, which left Incheon International Airport in Seoul about 4:30 p.m. local time, was carrying Korean, Chinese, American and Japanese passengers.

A federal aviation official said the tail ripped off the airplane as it was touching down on runway 28L about 11:30 a.m.

After the tail ripped off, the jet hit the runway hard and skidded into a grass and dirt area between the runways. A fire broke out on the silver-colored jet, sending massive clouds of black smoke into the air as the plane came to rest off the tarmac.

Passengers scrambled out of the plane as emergency crews raced to the scene. Rescuers found some of the passengers dousing themselves in the shallow water near the runway.

San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said late Saturday the two passengers who were killed were both 16-year-old girls. One appeared to have been thrown from the rear of the plane and landed on the runway when the tail broke off, he said. The other was found near the wreckage.


Advertisement

The girls were identified Sunday morning as Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia, students at Jiangshan Middle School in eastern China, state broadcaster China Central Television said, citing a fax from the airline to the Jiangshan city government.

The Associated Press reported that they were part of a group of 29 students and five teachers had set off from the highly competitive school in Zhejiang, an affluent coastal province. The group was apparently heading to the Los Angeles-area West Valley Christina Church and School, the school said in a statement.

This image courtesy fo CBS affiliate KPIX, shows an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 after it crash landed on the runway at San Francisco International Airport
This image courtesy fo CBS affiliate KPIX, shows an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 after it crash landed on the runway at San Francisco International Airport on July 6, 2013. There were no immediate reports of casualties and one apparent survivor tweeted a picture of passengers fleeing the plane. Video footage showed the jet, Flight 214 from Seoul, on its belly surrounded by firefighters. == ==-/AFP/Getty Images (-)

"En route to WVCS were 35 Chinese students who were on the airplane that crash landed in San Francisco. They were scheduled to be here on Tuesday for three weeks,'' the school said. "Now, we are unsure what their next steps will be ... but we are certain that God knows and will help us care for them in this time of crisis. Please join us as we learn how to care for them.

"Dear Lord, give grace to their moms and dads, brothers and sisters. Give us wisdom and compassion as we care for our guests from China,'' the school statement added.

At least nine Bay Area hospitals were treating the scores of injured.

"Some (of the victims) are in shock, some are very tearful, some look stunned. Overall I think it's amazing how well most of the patients are coping," said Dr. Chris Barton at San Francisco General Hospital, which treated 52 victims.

A screenshot of a photo taken by passenger David Eun and posted on the Path social network shortly after Saturday’s crash at San Francisco airport.
A screenshot of a photo taken by passenger David Eun and posted on the Path social network shortly after Saturday's crash at San Francisco airport.

The hospital reported that five of 10 people initially brought to the hospital with critical injuries were in "serious condition" Saturday night. One of those still in critical condition is a child.

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said his office was helping families and patients at San Francisco General clear customs, since at least some of the passengers were taken from the airfield right to the hospital. Deputies will also help provide transportation to the airport or a hotel for discharged passengers.

Stanford Hospital treated 45 patients and admitted 16 -- 10 with serious injuries, said Dr. David Spain, chief of trauma.

He would not disclose ages, genders or individual injuries, citing medical privacy. But he did say that one victim underwent surgery and some had internal bleeding or suffered spinal fractures.

"There were injuries consistent with wearing a seat belt," Spain said. "There were blunt force injuries."

At least one patient arrived in a Coast Guard helicopter, others in ambulances and some by bus. Seven trauma teams were on duty. Chinese and Korean interpreters were called in.

Of the seven passengers taken to Saint Francis Memorial Hospital, all but one have been released, said hospital spokeswoman Dee Mostofi.

Five adults and two children, including six females and one male, were taken to Saint Francis after the plane crashed. None had critical injuries, and only one adult patient will stay overnight, Mostofi said.

Others were being treated at St. Mary's Medical Center in San Francisco, Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley and other facilities, but there was no word on their conditions.

Evacuation slides were used to get a majority of the 291 passengers and 16 crew members off the burning aircraft as quickly as possible.

Fire crews arrived just minutes after the crash and saw "multiple people were walking to safety," said San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White. The bodies of the two people killed in the crash were found outside the plane, according to SF Fire officials.

"It was a bit surreal," passenger Benjamin Levy said in an interview with NBC Bay Area. "A lot of people were screaming and not really believing what was happening."

Levy, 39, a partner in a Silicon Valley firm, walked gingerly around San Francisco General Hospital, where he was being treated for bruised and broken ribs.

Sitting in seat 30K when the plane smashed into the tarmac, Levy said he did not see any fire on the plane, just smoke.

Levy also refuted earlier claims that the plane had flipped when it crashed.

"If we'd flipped none of us would be here to talk about it," he said.

Levy said he pulled the lever on the emergency door and had to push aside debris to open it. No slide deployed, he said. Instead, he helped passengers step down onto several feet of debris. Although video footage shows billowing plumes of smoke, Levy said most of the passengers got out before the smoke began.

"People were pushing each other out," he said. "There was a lot of commotion. I'm so thankful so many people go out of the plane quickly."

Levy, a native Frenchman who has been living in San Francisco with his family for 16 years, says he was watching a Korean movie called "Love 911" about fire rescuers when he looked out the window and realized the plane was too low and close to the water.

"I realized the pilot was going too low too fast," Levy said. "When the pilot realized, he put some more gas to correct the plane again. We hit the runway pretty bad and started going back up in the air again and landed again pretty hard."

Asiana Airlines released a statement Saturday afternoon saying they were committed to helping find the cause of the accident.

"Asiana Airlines will continue to cooperate fully with the investigation of all associated government agencies and to facilitate this cooperation has established an emergency response center at its headquarters," the statement read.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Debra Hersman said teams are headed to SFO to look for flight data recorders and begin their investigation. They were expected to arrive around midnight or 1 a.m.

"We have a lot of work to do, as you know, when our teams arrive on scene," Hersman said.

The FBI is also assisting in the investigation, and an FBI spokesman said Saturday afternoon that there was no indication of any terrorist involvement in the crash.

In the last press briefing of the evening, officials said the runway had been lengthened in recent weeks but added that the change was unlikely to have been a factor in the crash.

Robert Herbst, a retired American Airlines 767 pilot and aviation industry consultant in South Carolina, told Bay Area News Group that the damage he saw on television footage suggests a "no-brainer" explanation of the cause of the crash.

"This is very obvious what happened," said Herbst who flew commercial airlines for 41 years before retiring three years ago. "They landed short of the runway. They were too low for the flight path and the tail of the aircraft hit the sea wall."

When landing at SFO, Herbst said, "the nose is pretty high up in the air just before touchdown. They weren't high enough and the tail hit the sea wall. This is a no-brainer."

Two of the airport's four runways were reopened late Saturday afternoon but many flights were still being diverted to airports in Oakland, San Jose and Sacramento. SFO officials did not say when full service would be restored.

Seventeen flights that had been diverted from SFO landed at Mineta San Jose International Airport and 10 more were expected, with three of them international flights, said airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes.

Officials with the various airlines will have to decide what to do with the aircraft and passengers, some of whom were boarding buses chartered by their airlines, Barnes said.

At Oakland International Airport, five domestic flights and four international flights were diverted after the crash at SFO.

Jesse Sellars was supposed to catch a connecting flight home to Colorado Springs when his plane was instead flown to Oakland.

Sitting on a baggage carousel with a cell phone pressed against his ear, he said he had been on hold for 20 minutes and had no idea how he was going to get home.

"We were dumped here," he said. "United has no support here. They sent a dislocation team, but basically what they said is you're dislocated."

Still, Sellars put his dilemma into perspective.

"It's hard to complain about being inconvenienced given what's happened ... when the severity of the situation is that level of magnitude," he said

He and other passengers said they didn't know much about what happened until they were on the ground and allowed to use their cell phones.

"Everybody started checking online, using Twitter," he said. "Most people were really concerned about what happened to the people on the other plane."

Pete Pries, 29, of Campbell, was attempting to return home from a business trip to Amsterdam on a KLM Boeing 747 -- a commonly-seen plane at SFO but an unusual sight at Oakland International Airport, where the plane was diverted. He said the tarmac in Oakland was like a parking lot of airplanes.

"We parked and waited out there, wherever the plane would fit," he said.

He said that because the airport couldn't accommodate a full jumbo jet of international passengers disembarking at once, they unloaded about 150 at a time.

Bay Area News Group reporter Natalie Alund was on a plane from Los Angeles International Airport and about to land at SFO about 12:45 p.m. when her plane was diverted.

"We got in early and were about to land when the plane took a hard left and everyone started freaking out. The male flight attendant came by and told me we were turning around because of a crash,'' she said. "About three minutes later the pilot came in over the intercom and announced what was going on. ... That was scary. Just scary. People were unnerved."

A San Ramon man was reportedly waiting at the airport for a group of Korean exchange students that were on the plane, but there was no word on the condition of those students.

Even hours after the crash, hundreds of people were gathered on the shoreline to look at the wreckage across the water.

The plane's orange tail came to rest about 300 to 400 yards behind the charred and twisted fuselage. For hours, dozens of fire trucks surrounded what was left of the jet, with a small U.S. Coast Guard boat in the water nearby.

Monica Hermes, 43, grew up in Millbrae in a hillside house with a view of the airport. "My parents bought it so we could watch the planes. I was always wondering when this day would be," she said of a crash. "We take airline safety for granted."

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

Saturday's crash was the first fatal incident involved a 777 in the 19 years the plane has been in service.

The last time a large U.S. airline lost a plane in a fatal crash was in 2001, when an American Airlines Airbus A300 taking off from Kennedy Airport crashed in Queens, New York, killing 260 people on the plane and five on the ground.

Former SFO spokesman Mike McCarron said he could not recall any fatalities in connection with a commercial plane crash at SFO.

Staff writers Natalie Neysa Alund, Eric Kurhi, Thomas Peele, Heather Somerville, Aaron Kinney, Julia Prodis Sulek and wire services contributed to this report.