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Crash At San Francisco Airport Kills Two


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. The National Transportation Safety Board has recovered the flight data and voice recorders from the Boeing 777 jet that crashed during landing yesterday. Two people were killed, both 16-year-old female students from China. More that 180 other people were injured. Asiana flight 214 was landing at San Francisco International Airport when its tail apparently hit the ground, sending the plane skidding across the landing area. Nearly 50 of the injuries are serious but it could have been much worse. There were a totally of 307 people onboard. NPR's Richard Gonzales reports from San Francisco.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: Asiana flight number 214 departed Seoul, South Korea with 291 passengers and a crew of 16. The passengers were mostly Chinese and Korean. There were 61 U.S. citizens. They were all bound overnight on a 10-and-a-half-hour flight to San Francisco, where their plane was scheduled to arrive on a crystal clear day. The pilot brought the Boeing 777 in for a routine landing. The runways at San Francisco International Airport are right near the bay so that planes descend over the water and touch down on a runway that suddenly appears underneath. It happens hundreds of times a day but yesterday was different.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Asiana 214, heavy emergency vehicles are responding.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Emergency, responding.

GONZALES: The emergency radio traffic is from about 11:30 local time.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Asiana 214, heavy emergency vehicle are responding. We have everyone on their way.

GONZALES: By the time emergency crews arrived at the scene, they found Asiana flight 214 without its tail section. The top of the fuselage had been sheared off as if had been ripped by a giant can opener. Witness Stephanie Turner, a tourist from Tempe, Arizona, was near the runaway taking pictures of another plane when she saw Asiana flight 214 attempt to land.

STEPHANIE TURNER: And then I noticed that the tail was very, very low, the angle was bad. And so as it came in, the tail of the plane struck first.

GONZALES: The tail hit the ground hard. Some witnesses called it a boom, others described it as thud. Stephanie Turner:

TURNER: Hit the end of the runway and the tail broke off at that point, and the plane just kind of started spinning down the runway a little bit. There was a ton of dust and smoke pouring out of the fuselage. The plane came to a rest and then we could see flames and again just a ton of smoke pouring out of the fuselage.

GONZALES: Passenger Bernard Levy told NBC that everything about the landing seemed normal except for the final seconds.

BERNARD LEVY: We were approaching perfectly well except that we were too low, we were too low too soon. And so when the pilot realized, he put some more gas to try to correct and lift up the plane again but was too late.

GONZALES: Levy says when he realized that he was OK, he began helping other passengers get off the plane. Many descended on the inflatable emergency evacuation chutes and were able to walk away from the crash while firemen doused the plane with water and foam. But others were not so fortunate. Forty-nine people were seriously hurt. They were taken to local area hospitals. At San Francisco General, the city's only trauma center, Doctor Chris Barton, the emergency room chief, described the injuries his staff was treating.

CHRIS BARTON: We've seen a lot of bumps and bruises, a lot of contusions. We've seen several patients with long bone fractures. But we've seen a lot of patients with spine injuries. And I'm guessing it's from the force of the plane going down on the long axis of the spine. So, we have patients with spinal compression fractures or cervical spine fractures.

GONZALES: Back at the airport, officials scrambled to keep tabs on the victims. One hundred and twenty-three passengers were not injured. At one point, City Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White told reporters that 60 passengers were unaccounted for. But that proved incorrect. Mayor Ed Lee appeared relieved that there was a bit of good news to report.

MAYOR ED LEE: Having visited the site with staff and with police and fire department, it is incredible and very lucky that we have so many survivors. But there are still many who are critically injured and our prayers and our thoughts continue to go out for them.

GONZALES: Today, federal transportation and safety officials will begin their formal investigation into what went wrong with Asiana flight 214. Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.
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