Asiana flight attendant, last person off jet, describes ordeal

By Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times

A flight attendant who was the last to leave the burning wreckage of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 described the harrowing moments after the Boeing 777 crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday.

Cabin manger Lee Yoon-hye said right before the plane hit the runway, she felt the plane trying to take off again, before she felt a massive impact, followed by another “great big jolt." The plane then shook left and right, Lee recalled at a Sunday night news conference with Korean reporters.

Lee, 40, said she rushed into the cockpit to check if the pilots were alive, and when they said they were OK, asked if she should evacuate the flight. She was initially instructed to hold off, and she made repeat announcements asking passengers to remain calm, recalled Lee, who has worked for Asiana for 18 years.

“Then I heard, ‘Evacuate!’” Lee said, speaking matter-of-factly in Korean. “After that, we followed our training, and began yelling ‘Emergency evacuation!’ and proceeded to evacuate the plane.”

As the crew scrambled to get passengers off the plane, the evacuation slide on the first exit to the right side of the plane inflated inward, pinning a flight attendant and nearly suffocating her, Lee said. One of the pilots rushed into the cockpit to get a “crash ax” to deflate the slide, as Lee led passengers off the plane through doors on the left.

Lee said she proceeded toward the back of the plane, evacuating people through exit one, then exit two on the left side of the plane. Near the third and last exit were many Chinese passengers, who didn’t seem to realize what was going on, she said.

“They were doing other things. I yelled at them to hurry outside, ‘Go! Go! Go that way!’” she said.

Three passengers remained in the back, including a woman who appeared to have badly injured her leg and was unable to slide down the exit on her own. Lee said she helped the passengers up to the second door, where they exited with the help of another flight attendant. A pilot carried out the woman with the leg injury.

It was then that flames erupted around row 10 on the right side of the plane, and she heard screams from a colleague asking her to save her life. A second slide had inflated inward near the flames, pinning a flight attendant's leg.

“I grabbed a knife passengers had eaten with from a cart and handed it to the co-pilot, and he punctured it,” Lee said.

NTSB officials said they are investigating what happened with the emergency chutes.

Lee then grabbed a fire extinguisher and handed it to the co-pilot who tried to put out the flame. The co-pilot evacuated with the flight attendant whose leg was pinned.

Lee said she tried to check the back of the plane one last time before exiting herself, but it seemed like the top of the cabin was falling in and the rear of the plane was obscured in black smoke, almost as if there was a wall.

"My first priority was getting the passengers evacuated from the aircraft," she said.

It was only later, at the hospital, that she realized she had broken her tailbone during the crash.