An Asiana Airlines passenger aircraft has crashed at San Francisco Airport, killing two people.
Flight OZ214, operated using a B777-200ER jet, was coming into land at the coastal airport following a flight from the Korean capital Seoul when it apparently fell short of the runway and hit a sea wall before catching fire.
Images posted on Twitter in the immediate aftermath of the event showed plumes of smoke rising from the crash scene, while onlookers described how passengers were evacuated down the aircraft’s inflatable emergency chutes before rescue workers could arrive on the scene.
The smouldering wreckage of the twin-aisle aircraft remains at the airport, with the fire having burned large holes in the roof and sides of the fuselage and the entire tail section missing.
In a statement, Asiana said the aircraft was carrying a total 291 passengers, including 141 Chinese citizens, 77 Koreans and 61 Americans. It added however, that the cause of the crash is not yet known.
“Asiana Airlines is currently investigating the specific cause of the incident as well as any injuries that may have been sustained to passengers as a result. Asiana Airlines will continue to cooperate fully with the investigation of all associated government agencies and to facilitate this cooperation has established an emergency response centre at its headquarters,” the airline said.
But the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the aircraft was not carrying enough speed into the landing. At a news conference on Sunday, NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said the cockpit voice recorder revealed that the pilot requested to abort landing immediately prior to the crash.
And one eyewitness, Stephen Dear, told ABC News that the B777’s tail hit the ground first.
“The nose of the plane was higher than usual for a plane coming in to land and I thought that was odd,” Dear was quoted saying. “It got closer and closer. I saw the back tail hit the ground.”
Another witness described a “huge mushroom cloud” after the impact – a statement backed up by photographs taken at the scene.
Both Asiana and the B777 have good safety records. Before Saturday, no passenger aircraft operated by Asiana had been involved in a fatal accident since 1993, while no-one has ever been killed while flying onboard a B777.