Skip to main content

Asiana flight attendants hailed as heroes

By Madison Park, CNN
July 10, 2013 -- Updated 0600 GMT (1400 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: 2 flight attendants were ejected from plane and found on runway
  • Veteran flight attendant Lee Yoon Hye describes crash landing
  • Lee worked with Asiana Airlines for 18 years
  • Emergency slides deployed inside the plane and trapped crew

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Veteran flight attendant Lee Yoon Hye sensed something was awry as Flight 214 neared the San Francisco International Airport runway.

As the plane was supposed to land, it rose briefly as if it was trying to lift off again.

Lee had worked 18 years with Asiana Airlines and on Saturday, her skills were tested.

The plane slammed down with "great impact," said Lee, who sat in the front.

How Asiana Flight 214 landed
New details about Boeing 777 crew
Plane crash investigation
China mourns air crash victims

Then boom -- the plane hit again.

"It was even more than a hard landing," Lee, 40, said. The plane teetered left and right.

Shock and survival: Plane crash through the eyes of children

After striking the edge of the runway at San Francisco International Airport, the Boeing 777 tumbled into the ground, igniting flames and a trail of smoke. Its tail splintered off and parts of the plane peeled off as it skidded into the earth.

When the aircraft finally stopped, she noticed that the emergency inflatable slide located at the right side of the front door had deployed inside the plane. Witnesses say the overhead bins dropped open.

Hailed as a hero who ushered passengers out of the Asiana plane, Lee was one of the 12 flight attendants on Flight 214.

Two other flight attendants were not in their seats at the rear of the aircraft when the plane finally ground to a halt, because they were ejected as the aircraft broke up. They were later found near the runway, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Lee calmly described the chaotic minutes of the Asiana plane crash. Dressed in her airline uniform, her name tag pinned to her jacket and her hair in the airline's trademark bun, she addressed Korean journalists gathered in San Francisco earlier this week.

According to the airline, flight attendants helped passengers get off the plane safely. They opened doors, deployed slides and helped passengers escape, according to JoongAng Daily, a South Korean newspaper.

As soon as the plane stopped, Lee knocked on the cockpit door to make sure the pilots were OK.

The captain opened the door.

"Are you OK, Captain?" she asked.

"Yes, I am OK," he replied.

Survivor: I thought 'I'm dying'
Asiana crash: Rescuing the survivors
Plane crash victim may have been run over
Hager: Inevitable it was going to stall

"Should I perform the evacuation?" she asked. He told her to wait, she recalled.

Interactive: What happened with Asiana Flight 214?

Lee made an announcement to assure increasingly agitated passengers, telling them that the plane had come to a complete stop.

Once evacuation began, Lee said she had a plan.

"I was not thinking, but acting," she said. "As soon as I heard 'emergency escape,' I conducted the evacuation."

"When there was a fire, I was just thinking to extinguish it, not thinking that it's too dangerous or 'What am I going to do?'"

Asiana flight attendants undergo three months of training including emergencies and terrorist training before their first flight.

Did passengers ignore safety messages?

Lee said she saw her colleagues jump into action to help passengers and injured crew even as a fire burned in the back of the airplane. They popped the first emergency slide that had deployed inside with an ax to free a crew member who was struggling to breathe underneath its weight. Another emergency slide in the back trapped another crew member and was deflated with a kitchen knife, Lee said according to South Korean news station YTN.

One shaken elementary school-aged boy was afraid to go down the emergency slide, but one of the flight attendants lifted him on her back and escaped with him, Lee said.

Earlier this week, Eugene Rah, who was flying his 173rd flight on Asiana Air, told CNN that he saw a 100-pound flight attendant carrying the injured on her back.

Joanne Hayes-White, the San Francisco Fire Chief also praised the flight attendant for being "so composed."

"She was not concerned for her safety, but everyone else's," she said.

Lee said she was the last to leave the plane. And she glanced back.

"The ceiling was coming down and I felt like something was dragging the plane. Behind me I couldn't see, because it looked like there was a wall."

She had no idea the tail had snapped off or how the plane would be nearly engulfed in flames moments after they had escaped.

Two teenagers, both 16, died in the crash. The rest who were on board escaped: 305 of them.

Seohee Sohn contributed to this report from Seoul, South Korea.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Asiana Flight 214 crash
July 9, 2013 -- Updated 0943 GMT (1743 HKT)
The two teen girls were close friends, each looking forward to a summer trip to California to improve their English.
July 9, 2013 -- Updated 1435 GMT (2235 HKT)
After 10 long hours in the sky, the Jang children couldn't wait to get off the plane.
July 10, 2013 -- Updated 1034 GMT (1834 HKT)
I didn't expect my 5-year-old daughter to first learn about airplane crashes while we were in the air.
July 17, 2013 -- Updated 0241 GMT (1041 HKT)
Passengers who were aboard Asiana Airlines Flight 214, which crashed in San Francisco, began legal action against Boeing Co., which made the plane, according to a law firm representing passengers.
July 17, 2013 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
The names, which some liken to slurs, spread everywhere -- triggering anger in the United States as well as South Korea.
July 12, 2013 -- Updated 1042 GMT (1842 HKT)
Shortly after Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crashed in San Francisco, passengers and witnesses pleaded with 911 responders to send help -- some frantically, some insistently.
Here's what we know about the crash landing, told through animation and graphics.
July 9, 2013 -- Updated 1429 GMT (2229 HKT)
As a plume of black smoke billowed from Asiana Airlines flight 214 after it crash landed, images were captured of passengers collecting their carry-on items before evacuating.
July 10, 2013 -- Updated 1946 GMT (0346 HKT)
Inside the cockpit of the Airbus A380 at Le Bourget airport on June 12, 2005.
Pilots will need more cockpit training to become fully certified first officers for U.S. passenger and cargo airlines.
July 10, 2013 -- Updated 0600 GMT (1400 HKT)
Veteran flight attendant Lee Yoon Hye sensed something was awry as Flight 214 neared the San Francisco International Airport runway.
July 10, 2013 -- Updated 1614 GMT (0014 HKT)
As Asiana Airlines Flight 214 flew into San Francisco, the Boeing 777's 219 passengers didn't know that the man at the controls had never landed this kind of plane at this airport before.
July 8, 2013 -- Updated 1351 GMT (2151 HKT)
"Look at that one -- look at how his nose is up in the air."
July 8, 2013 -- Updated 0041 GMT (0841 HKT)
Of the 307 people on board, only two are confirmed dead.
July 8, 2013 -- Updated 0036 GMT (0836 HKT)
Nearly three hours after the crash, David Eun walked through customs at San Francisco International Airport. By then, the adrenaline rush was subsiding enough that he could begin processing the enormity of it all.
July 19, 2013 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Photos from the scene show a trail of debris down the runway and people waiting for their loved ones.
July 8, 2013 -- Updated 0019 GMT (0819 HKT)
Asiana Airlines had coped with a pair of deadly crashes over the past 20 years before a Boeing 777 crash landed in San Francisco and burst into flames on Saturday.
ADVERTISEMENT