SAN FRANCISCO — An Asiana Airlines flight crashed while landing at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday, killing at least two people, injuring dozens of others and forcing passengers to jump down the emergency inflatable slides to safety as flames tore through the plane.
One person was unaccounted for from among the 307 passengers and crew, said airport spokesman Doug Yakel. He said 181 people were taken to local hospitals. There were 291 passengers and 16 crew members.
San Francisco fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said the investigation of the crash has been turned over to the FBI and that terrorism has been ruled out.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Flight 214 from Seoul crashed while landing before noon PDT. A video clip posted to YouTube showed smoke coming from a jet on the tarmac. Passengers could be seen jumping down the emergency slides.
The top of the fuselage was burned away, and the entire tail was gone. One engine appeared to have broken away. Pieces of the tail were strewn about the runway. Emergency responders could be seen walking inside the burned-out wreckage.
It wasn’t immediately clear what happened to the plane as it was landing, but some eyewitnesses said the aircraft seemed to lose control and that the tail may have hit the ground.
Stephanie Turner saw the plane going down and the rescue slides deploy, but returned to her hotel room before seeing any passengers get off the jet, she told ABC News. She said when she first saw the flight, she noticed right away that the angle of its approach seemed strange.
“I mean we were sure that we had just seen a lot of people die. It was awful,” she said. “And it looked like the plane had completely broken apart. There were flames and smoke just billowing.”
Kate Belding was out jogging just before 11:30 a.m. PDT on a path across the water from the airport when she noticed the plane approaching the runway in a way that “just didn’t look like it was coming in quite right.”
“Then all of a sudden I saw what looked like a cloud of dirt puffing up and then there was a big bang and it kind of looked like the plane maybe bounced (as it neared the ground),” she said. “I couldn’t really tell what happened, but you saw the wings going up and (in) a weird angle.”
“Not like it was cartwheeling,” she said, but rather as though the wings were almost swaying from side to side.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a team of investigators to San Francisco to probe the crash. NTSB spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said on Saturday that NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman would head the team.
The crash shut down the San Francisco runways, and incoming flights were rerouted.
But the San Francisco crash had no impact on flights in and out of Pittsburgh, said Jeff Martinelli, a spokesman for the Allegheny County Airport Authority.
“There’s no effect on flights here, and it’s unlikely there will be,” he said.
There are no direct flights between San Francisco and Pittsburgh.
Aviation researcher Craig Conroy of the North Hills said that some possible causes of the crash could be pilot error or a wind shear that disrupted the landing, based on descriptions that the tail was low as the plane landed.
“They’ve had about 18 years of pretty much incident-free flying,” Conroy said of the Boeing 777, which he said has a good safety record.
Asiana is a South Korean airline, second in size to national carrier Korean Air. It has recently tried to expand its presence in the United States and joined the Star Alliance, which is anchored in the U.S. by United Airlines.
The 777-200 is a long-range plane from Boeing. The twin-engine aircraft is one of the world’s most popular long-distance planes, often used for flights of 12 hours or more, from one continent to another. The airline’s website says its 777s can carry between 246 and 300 passengers.
The flight was 10 hours and 23 minutes, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking service. The 777 is a smaller, wide-body jet that can travel long distances without refueling and is typically used for long flights over water.
The most notable accident involving a 777 occurred on Jan. 17, 2008, at Heathrow Airport in London. British Airways Flight 28 landed hard about 1,000 feet short of the runway and slid onto the start of the runway. The impact broke the 777-200’s landing gear. There were 47 injuries but no fatalities.
An investigation revealed ice pellets that had formed in the fuel were clogging the fuel-oil heat exchanger, blocking fuel from reaching the plane’s engines. The Rolls-Royce Trent 800 series engines that were used on the plane then were redesigned.
Bill Waldock, an expert on aviation accident investigation, said he was reminded of the Heathrow accident as he watched video of Saturday’s crash.
“Of course, there is no indication directly that’s what happened here,” he said. “That’s what the investigation is going to have to find out.”
The Asiana 777 “was right at the landing phase, and for whatever reason the landing went wrong,” said Waldock, director of the Embry-Riddle University accident investigation laboratory in Prescott, Ariz. “For whatever reason, they appeared to go low on approach, and then the airplane pitched up suddenly to an extreme attitude, which could have been the pilots trying to keep it out of the ground.”
The last time a large U.S. airline lost a plane in a fatal crash was an American Airlines Airbus A300 taking off from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in 2001.
Smaller airlines have had crashes since. The last fatal U.S. crash was a Continental Express flight operated by Colgan Air, which crashed into a house near Buffalo on Feb. 12, 2009. The crash killed all 49 people on board and one man in a house.