Nothing seemed amiss aboard Asiana Airlines Flight 214 from Seoul, South Korea, as it approached San Francisco International Airport just before noon Saturday: the plane was on time, the sky was clear, and everyone, including the crew, was getting ready to land.
Benjamin Levy, a businessman seated in the Boeing 777 jetliner's 32nd row, watched through the window. A world traveler, he'd flown into the airport many times. He knew what to expect. So, as the plane approached a runway along the San Francisco Bay, he saw right away that it was too low. It didn't look like the plane was going to make the runway.
The pilot must have seen the same thing, because the plane suddenly lurched upward with a sudden jolt of power, Levy said.
"When he realized that, he put more gas to try to correct the plane again and it was too late," Levy recalled in a phone interview with NBC Bay Area. "So we hit the runway pretty bad and then we starting going back up in the air again. And then we landed again pretty hard."
Levy added: “It felt like the guy missed the runway quite completely. He tried to correct, which probably helped. We would have hit the rocks.”
Now the plane was on the ground, but panic was just starting to set in.
"It was surreal," Levy said. "A lot of people screaming and not really believing what was happening to them. I wasn’t believing it either."
Many of the 291 passengers were hurt, but Levy wasn't in bad shape. He looked out the window again. A piece of a wing was gone. There was debris all over the place. He got up, helped to open an emergency exit and started ushering people through the opening.
"People were pushing each other out," Levy said. "The hostess was trying to help as well. There was a lot of commotion going on."
Firefighters were climbing aboard. Smoke was starting to appear. Soon the plane would catch fire.
Someone told Levy to get out of there. So he did, making it into one of the first ambulances to San Francisco General Hospital. He was pretty lucky: some cuts and bruises and maybe a broken rib.
"I am (in pain), but not too bad compared to other people," Levy said.
Officials confirmed two people were found dead outside the wreckage, female Chinese teenagers who were seated at the back of the plane. 182 people were taken to one of nine Bay Area hospitals, including 49 with serious injuries including burns and fractures.
The NTSB arrived on the scene Saturday to lead the investigation into the crash.
Levy said he felt terrible for the people injured worse than he was. But "it could have been a lot, lot worse," he said.
Waiting for CT scan & diagnosis. Thx for all the following. My thought are with fellow passenger and their families. pic.twitter.com/RwqCQgFLcZ
— Ben Levy (@BenLevy74) July 7, 2013