Kevin Fagan, Nanette Asimov, Carolyn Jones and Ellen Huet
Updated 9:31 am, Sunday, July 7, 2013

It happened with almost no warning.

One minute, Asiana Airlines Flight 214 was making a seemingly routine approach to San Francisco International Airport on a calm, clear Saturday morning after an 11-hour flight from Seoul. Suddenly, the Boeing 777 slammed hard into the ground just short of the runway, bounced in the air and then pancaked, skidding and shedding parts as the terrified passengers hung on for their lives.

But that nightmare turned into a miracle as hundreds of people managed to flee the shattered hulk of the jetliner, even as flames spread through the passenger cabin.

Two people were killed and 49 seriously hurt when Flight 214 crashed at 11:27 a.m. But the rest of the 307 passengers and crew members escaped either unscathed or with lesser injuries, Doug Yakel, an SFO spokesman, said at an evening news conference.

As night fell, emergency vehicles with their blinking lights still surrounded the burnt-out remains of the jetliner. Holes ringed by charred metal were ripped out of the plane’s top, and the back of the plane was open to the elements where the aircraft’s tail once was.

It had a look of a funeral pyre.

“We’re very lucky that we have so many survivors,” Mayor Ed Lee said. “This could have been much worse.”

The plane came to rest on the side of Runway 28L, one of four runways at SFO, said Lynn Lunsford, a spokeswoman with the Federal Aviation Administration. The jetliner appeared to hit short of the runway and then slowly turn as it careened across the ground – losing its tail and leaving a trail of debris.

The injuries “are consistent with the types of injuries you would see in a plane crash or fire,” said Rachael Kagan, a spokeswoman at San Francisco General Hospital, where six people were in critical condition. “Many burns, fractures and internal injuries.”

“It’s extraordinary, a tragic day,” said San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White.
Orderly evacuation

Benjamin Levy, a 39-year-old San Francisco resident, was sitting in seat 30K, returning from a trip to South Korea, when the trouble began.

“It was like a Six Flags show,” he said Saturday night as he left San Francisco General, where he was treated for rib injuries. He was still wearing a bloody shirt.

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