'It was boom!' inside crashing plane in San Francisco

Asiana Plane Crash

In the end, it was an easy exit from the plane. The tail was gone, and the landing gear had been ripped off during the crash. Wen Zhang, seated near the back of Asiana Airlines flight 214 from Seoul, waited until the plane slid to a stop. Then she gathered up her crying 4-year-old son, picked up her carry-on bag and stepped out into the San Francisco sunshine.

"We just walked out, two rows to the big hole in the plane tail," said Zhang, who spoke to reporters outside a hospital. Pilot Lee Kang-kook was at the controls of Boeing 777 as it approached San Francisco International Airport at about 11:30 a.m., at the end of a 10-hour flight.

The airport had turned off for the summer a navigation system that would have suggested the best descent, and while the weather was excellent, Lee was in training, making his first flight in a 777 to San Francisco. He had nearly 10,000 flying hours, but only 43 hours on a 777, Asiana said. Next to him was co-pilot Lee Jeong-min, with over 3,000 hours on a 777.

There was no word of warning from the cockpit during the approach, but several passengers said they sensed the plane was coming in too low. While the cabin began to hum with a murmur of pleasant anticipation prior to landing, Eugene Rah began to brace for disaster. "I knew the plane was flying too low," Rah told NBC's "Today" show.

The plane was approaching over San Francisco Bay, and Rah said the water was too close. "I was really prepared, and I thought, 'we're going to have a big crash.' And bang, that's what happened." The crew did not ask the control tower for help, National Transportation Safety Board Chair Deborah Hersman told a news conference, describing flight data and cockpit voice recordings from the plane and control tower recordings.

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