Asiana evacuation slides 'malfunctioned'

2013-07-08 13:07
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Two killed in San Francisco jet crash

A South Korean passenger jet crashed in San Francisco on Sunday, leaving two dead. See pictures from the scene here.

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 whom seemed to be choking beneath the weight of a slide.

It was just one of the moments of drama described on Sunday by Lee of a 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 had 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 bad she was hurt until a doctor at a San Francisco hospital later treated her.

It was still unclear if the pilot's inexperience with the aircraft and airport played a role, and officials were also investigating whether the airport's or plane's equipment could have malfunctioned.

Aviation and airline officials said although the pilot had previously flown a Boeing 777 nine times — for a modest 43 hours in total — it was the first time he was landing that wide-bodied jet into San Francisco. Investigators have said he tried to abort the landing and go back up in the air after realising he was flying too slow and too low but failed.

'Very big shock'

Lee, aged 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."

After the captain ordered an evacuation, Lee said she knew what to do. "I wasn't really thinking, but my body started carrying out the steps needed for an evacuation," Lee said. "I was only thinking about rescuing the next passenger."

When Lee saw that the plane was burning after the crash, she was calm. "I was only thinking that I should put it out quickly. I didn't have time to feel that this fire was going to hurt me," she said.

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 make sure 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.

More than a third of the people onboard didn't require hospitalisation, and only a small number were critically injured.

'Hero'

The San Francisco fire chief, Joanne Hayes-White, praised the cabin manager, who she talked to just 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."

Other survivors have also recounted their doomed flight's final moments and frantic escape.
 
"My son told me 'The plane will fall down, it's too close to the sea'' I told him 'No, baby, it's OK, we'll be fine'. And then the plane just fell down," Fei Xiong said on Sunday, moving gingerly from a plastic brace on her injured neck.

Within moments, the aircraft was hurtling out of control, its rear portion ripped off. Baggage was tumbling from the overhead bins onto passengers, dust filled the plane's carcass, and the oxygen masks had dropped down. People all around her were screaming.

Xiong, of China, was sitting in the middle of the plane when she felt the strong jolt and her neck flung back and forth violently.

'No time to be scared'

After the plane came to a rest, she grabbed her son and headed for the nearest door, which was open. She said the emergency chute had not deployed, so they jumped to the tarmac.

Near the rear of the aircraft in seat 40C, Wen Zhang said she thought the landing gear had failed when she felt the tail slam against the ground. She, too, was with her young son, aged 4.

"I had no time to be scared," she said.

Zhang picked up her child, who had hit the seat in front of him and broke his left leg. Unhurt, she could see a hole that ripped open at the back of the jumbo jet where the bathroom had been and carried her son to safety.

"It left a hole very close to my seat," she said. "Enough for two persons to get out."

Sitting near Zhang was 39-year-old Shi Da, who was travelling with his wife and teenage son.

Feeling lucky

He was shocked by the violent shaking of the crash, then the realisation that the back of the plane had ripped off. He stood up and could see the tail, but the kitchen was missing with nothing but a hole, he said.

"I can see through the hole to see the runway and the ground," he said. "So we just grabbed our bags and rushed out from the tail, from the hole."

The passengers who made it out alive sat on the tarmac for half an hour waiting for buses and watching the aircraft go up in flames as firefighters hosed it down. Ambulances took the badly injured away, but 123 people walked away with little injury.

Many didn't have their passports, cellphones or money. Da's friend picked up him and his family up, took them out to dinner, then they went to a Target store to buy clothes because their luggage is missing, presumed destroyed.

Most survivors suffered minor injuries, and were just starting to realise how close they'd come to death.

"I just feel lucky." Da said. "We are so lucky."

- AP

Read more on:    asiana airlines  |  us  |  air crashes  |  aviation  |  air travel
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