SAN FRANCISCO — An Asiana Airlines flight packed with more than 300 people slammed onto the runway while landing at San Francisco airport Saturday and caught fire, forcing many to escape by sliding down the emergency inflatable slides and into a trail of metal debris as flames tore through the plane.
At least two people who were found outside the wreckage died in the crash, while another 182 people were taken to hospitals, many with minor injuries, authorities said. Forty-nine people were reported to be in critical condition, San Francisco International Airport spokesman Doug Yakel said.
As the plane approached the runway from the waters of San Francisco Bay around noon, travelers in the terminals and others eyewitnesses could see that the aircraft was swaying unusually from side to side and that at one point the tail seemed to hit the ground before breaking off.
Kate Belding, who was jogging a few miles away, said she thought: "Oh my God. That plane is crashing."
By the time the flames were out, much of the top of the Boeing 777's fuselage had burned away. The tail section was gone, with pieces of it scattered across the beginning of the runway. One engine appeared to have broken away. Emergency responders could be seen walking inside the burned-out wreckage.
News of the crash spread quickly on Twitter and the Internet in this wired city, with eyewitnesses tweeting their stories, posting images of the plumes of smoke rising above the bay and uploading video of passengers fleeing the burning plane.
"It just looked really bad," Belding said. "I've seen the pictures of it since then, and it's amazing anyone walked out of that plane."
The investigation has been turned over to the FBI and terrorism has been ruled out, San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said. Federal aviation and transportation investigators were heading to the scene. Asiana, Boeing and the engine manufacturer, Pratt & Whitney, pledged to work with them.