SAN FRANCISCO -- The evacuation of Asiana Flight 214 began badly. Even before the mangled jetliner began filling with smoke, two evacuation slides on the doors inflated inside the cabin instead of outside, pinning two flight attendants to the floor.
Cabin manager Lee Yoon-hye, apparently the last person to leave the burning plane, said crew members deflated the slides with axes to rescue their colleagues, one of whom seemed to be choking beneath the weight of a slide.
Lee on Sunday described several dramatic moments in the remarkable evacuation that saved 305 of the 307 people on the plane that crashed Saturday while landing in San Francisco.
One flight attendant put a scared elementary schoolboy on her back and slid down a slide, said Lee, in the first comments by a crew member since the crash of the Boeing 777. A pilot helped another injured flight attendant off the plane after the passengers escaped. Lee herself worked to put out fires and usher passengers to safety despite a broken tailbone that kept her standing throughout a news briefing with mostly South Korean reporters at a San Francisco hotel. She said she didn't know how badly she was hurt until a doctor at a San Francisco hospital later treated her.
Lee, 40, who has nearly 20 years' experience with Asiana, said she knew seconds before impact that something was wrong with the plane.
"Right before touchdown, I felt like the plane was trying to take off. I was thinking, 'What's happening?' and then I felt a bang," Lee said. "That bang felt harder than a normal landing. It was a very big shock. Afterward, there was another shock and the plane swayed to the right and to the left."
Lee said she was the last person off the plane and that she tried to approach the back of the aircraft before she left to doublecheck that no one was left inside. But when she moved to the back of the plane, a cloud of black, toxic smoke made it impossible. "It looked like the ceiling had fallen down," she said.
The San Francisco fire chief, Joanne Hayes-White, praised Lee, whom she talked to after the evacuation.
"She was so composed I thought she had come from the terminal," Hayes-White told reporters in a clip posted to YouTube. "She wanted to make sure that everyone was off. ... She was a hero."