SAN FRANCISCO — Fei Xiong and her 8-year-old son looked at each other and sensed something was wrong as Asiana Flight 214 was coming in low over San Francisco Bay.
“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,” Xiong said 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.
The crash Saturday at San Francisco airport killed two teenage girls from China, whose bodies were found outside the wreckage, and injured dozens of others. At least two others suffered paralyzing back injuries, hospital officials said.
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.
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.
In the first comments by a crew member, cabin manager Lee Yoon-hye told reporters that when the captain ordered an evacuation, she knew what she had to do.
“At that point, my head became clear,” she said Sunday night at a San Francisco news conference. “I was only thinking about rescuing the next passenger.”
Lee said she was calm despite the flames.”I didn’t have a moment to feel that this fire was going to hurt me,” she said.
When a teenage boy was afraid to jumping onto the inflatable slide, Lee said that a flight attendant carried him on her back and they slid down together.
“The kid said he was scared. My colleague carried him on her back and jumped. I was inside the plane. (My colleague) was crying as parents tearfully hugged their kid after evacuating safely,” Lee said.
She also said passengers were calm during the evacuation.
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, 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 traveling with his wife and teenage son.
He was shocked by the violent shaking of the crash, then the realization 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 realize how close they’d come to death.
“I just feel lucky.” Da said. “We are so lucky.”