HUNDREDS of passengers on board an Asiana Airlines flight that crashed at San Francisco International Airport last night have survived in a miraculous escape.
The Boeing 777 had been travelling from Seoul, South Korea, when it crashed immediately after landing about 11.25am (7.25pm UK time) before bursting into flames.
A total of 291 passengers and 16 crew were believed to have survived the incident. There were reports last night that one other passenger had been killed in the crash, with up to 30 injured.
Television footage showed passengers jumping down inflatable emergency slides as fire trucks sprayed a white fire retardant on the wreckage. Fire services reported some passengers needing treatment for burns.
Eyewitnesses reported seeing Flight 214 coming down close to the end of runway 28 before the aircraft’s tail section ripped off.
The plane was then witnessed flipping over before coming to rest beside the runway.
A video clip posted to YouTube showed smoke coming from the silver-coloured jet, with debris strewn across the tarmac.
Gaping holes could be seen in the roof of the plane’s body, which was blackened by fire. The top of the fuselage had burned away. One engine also appeared to have been broken off.
Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Laura Brown said the sequence of events that caused the spectacular crash was still unclear.
Passenger David Eun tweeted: “I just crash landed at SFO. Tail ripped off. Most everyone seems fine. I’m OK. Surreal.”
He later tweeted: “Fire and rescue people all over the place. They’re evacuating the injured. Haven’t felt this way since 9/11.”
The National Transportation Safety Board was dispatching a team of crash investigators to the site.
Flights had been suspended in and out of the airport while emergency crews dealt with the wreckage.
Rachael Kagan, a spokeswoman for San Francisco General Hospital, said 10 critically injured people had been taken to the medical facility, including two children, six women and four men.
An official at Asiana Airlines in Seoul said the company would urgently dispatch a team of officials to help investigate the accident’s cause.
Eyewitness Anthony Castorani, who watched the scene from a nearby hotel, said he had seen the plane cartwheel down the runway and the tail and a wing fly off.
He said: “You heard a pop and you immediately saw a large, brief fireball that came out from underneath the aircraft. At that moment, you could see 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.”
A second witness, Ki Siadatan, said the plane “looked out of control” as it descended over San Francisco Bay.
He said: “We heard a boom and saw the plane disappear into a cloud of dust and smoke. There was then a second explosion.”
Airport public information officer Doug Yakel said of the recovery effort: “I want to thank the mutual aid responders who supported the airport in this effort. This is an effort that is still under way, we’re still securing the scene and addressing the passengers on the flight. I don’t have exact numbers on that count.”
Yakel added: “My best advice for passengers who are travelling today through SFO is to check with their airline to verify the status of their flight.”
The Asiana Airlines flight was 10 hours and 23 minutes, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking service.
Asiana is a South Korean airline, second in size to national carrier Korean Air. The airline recently tried to expand its presence in the United States, joining the Oneworld Alliance anchored by American Airlines and British Airways. Asiana flies 12 B777-200ERs, a twin-engine jet plan that is the latest 777 model produced by Boeing.