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Boeing 777 Crash in San Francisco

Aired July 6, 2013 - 16:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN breaking news.

LEMON: Hello, everyone, I'm Don Lemon in New York. The pictures are incredible. The stories coming out of San Francisco incredible as well. I want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world watching CNN International and other networks. We are following breaking news and we have a team of people who are going to help us out, our Richard Quest is here, Fredricka Whitfield will stay with us as well, as well as aviation expert Jim Tilmon and also reporters Dan Simon and other folks from around the globe will be helping with the worldwide resources of CNN.

Let me tell you what's happening now as you're looking at this incredible picture coming out of the airport there in San Francisco, a large commercial airliner crashed and burned just a short time ago at the San Francisco International Airport. The pictures you are looking at, the ones earlier, were live, these were pictures that were taken from passengers who were fleeing that plane as it made that crash landing. A passenger plane it is. It is a Boeing 777 from Asiana Airlines, which is a large South Korean airline. Look at the hole in the top of that plane. Unbelievable. This is what we know right now -- the plane made what the FAA is calling a crash landing. This is a technical crash landing. The tail broke off the plane. The top of the fuselage burned, as you can see it there. Witnesses say pieces of the wings and other parts were flying off the plane. We don't know how many people were on board the plane. How many of those people are hurt or possibly worse. We're getting the information in now. It's all coming in as we are talking now. I'm getting the information just as you are. We did see the emergency slides deployed from one side of the wreck. I want to bring in CNN's Richard Quest live now in London.

Richard, you know a lot about this particular airplane. This is a mess, if you are looking at these live pictures, unbelievable.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, I have the advantage in the sense of being able to see the pictures. But I can - I have seen sufficient of the damage to be able to say what you're looking at, first of all, the fact that the -- the roof of the aircraft, the fuselage, has burned out, we see that quite frequently whenever there is a fire particularly if it's a fuel-fed fire from one of the wing tanks. And we saw that in the British Airways years ago where the plane guts itself right the way along the aircraft. And what's interesting, is the way it is localized in the midsection, forward section and hasn't gone further back beyond the wing area.

Again, look at the picture of the rear of the aircraft. You can see the pressure dome, the rear pressure dome, which is what keeps the plane pressurized, that's the green thing right at the end has been fractured as the tail has separated from the aircraft. A very large debris field. The plane not even on the runway. All of these are now leading -- it's way too soon to give any form of judgment as to obviously what has happened.

LEMON: Right.

QUEST: And but what we can, obviously, clearly say it that it was upon what was to be a normal landing that the incident took place. There was no declared emergency. There was no emergency vehicles on the runway. Air traffic control from the tape that we're now starting to hear in the transcripts basically had no warning what was about to take place. So, we're looking at an operational and executional or a mechanical failure at the point, upon which the aircraft touched the ground or was in the final seconds before touching ground, Don.

LEMON: What we do know, Richard, though, something incredible happened, something out of the ordinary did happen once that plane got close to landing. I want to get now to CNN's Rene Marsh. She's live in Washington, D.C. She has new information from the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board. Rene, what do you know?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Don. Well, we're fighting at the NTSB go team, of course, as you know, in situations like this, automatically they are dispatched. So, they are en route there to start the investigation in to what went wrong here. We do know that Chairman Deborah Hersman will be going to the scene, so she will be dispatched there as well. You know, we're still waiting to get more information about injuries and so forth on board this plane from the FAA. So, all we can do now is really rely on the pictures that you're looking at there. We've reached out to a lot of our experts who help us just to kind of get a good idea as to what they think may have happened here and analyze what we're looking at.

I spoke with one expert who is a former crash investigator. He tells me pretty much what you just heard Richard say there. It appears that in this situation and, again, this is just speculation until we get more, that this plane landed short of the runway. And the reason why they believe that is the case is because they're looking at where all that debris is. And, again, they're saying that debris is right around the area where the water meets the land. That is not where the plane is supposed to go down. That is not the runway. So, it just seems as if this plane did indeed come down earlier than it was supposed to. So, imagine what did those people experience when they were on board? Well, you can expect that they probably heard a loud thumping sound. They probably heard a scraping noise when the belly of the plane went up against the ground there. Perhaps injuries. We don't know. But that is very possible in a situation like this. But here's the good news. It looks like judging from this picture the fuselage for the most part is still intact. However, you do see that burning there. So, we know that although it did complete its trip from Seoul, Korea, to San Francisco, there still is going to be fuel in this plane here. But they are required to have about an extra 45 minutes to an hour worth of fuel there, so that would explain why we're seeing some of the burning that happened there. But, again, Don, we're waiting to hear from the FAA about - of the people who were on board, but as you look at those pictures, it doesn't look like anyone is moving frantically at the air at the scene. So, that's the good news there. You would expect to see some frantic movement if people were inside and injured and in danger. We're not seeing that at this point.

LEMON: But, Rene, it's still very early on. It's still very early on.

MARSH: It certainly is. So, we're still waiting to get more.

LEMON: So, let's hold on a little bit. Rene, we'll get back to you. Thank you very much, if you get any information from the NTSB, from the FAA, update us. But again, we - I just want to tell you, you are looking at this incredible pictures, they are coming out of San Francisco International Airport. I don't really need to tell you what's going on. Look at your screen. This is a large commercial aircraft. It crash landed a short time ago at the San Francisco International Airport, a Boeing 777. With no doubt at least -- scores of people on board this airplane. We don't know exactly how many people on board. These are some of the pictures you're looking at now from people who ran off this airplane, escaped -- trying to escape with their lives and now they have, at least we hope most of them have made it to a safe place.

We have a team of people who are helping us out here. We have reporters stretched around the country. We have reporters stretched around the world. Even our political reporter Dana Bash on an airplane at the San Francisco International Airport affected by this. Dana reported for us just a short time ago. Dan Simon is in San Francisco as well. Jim Tilmon is an aviation expert and Richard Quest reports on aviation here and is an expert for CNN.

I want to go to Jim Tilmon now. Jim, we're looking at this. The weather situation at least from a layman's point of view as I'm looking at it doesn't particularly appear to be bad. I don't know what the winds were like there. But as you look at these pictures, what do they tell you?

JIM TILMON, AVIATION EXPERT: After having forecast weather for many, many years, as you know, Don, I see absolutely nothing that the weather had to do with this ...

LEMON: Nothing to do with the weather at all?

TILMON: Nothing that meets the eye at least. Of course, (ph) you know, they have some swirling currents and that's they thing for wind around these airports that are right up against the water. But I don't think that had anything at all to do with it, if so, it was very negligible. We are looking at the situation here where that something - something that we don't know the details of right now, caused a very nose high attitude before the aircraft actually got to the runway and in doing so it caused that lip of the runway surface area was right on the water, you actually have kind of an embankment there and you have something that the tail of the airplane struck there and the debris field looks it may have. If that's did happen, it disintegrates at that point. Now the airplane is just -- you might as well have a paper airplane that you're throwing around because controls have no effect whatsoever. That's anything you could do. Then you end up with landing gear coming off. Parts of the airplane coming off and a cartwheeling commercial airplane down the runway surface. An absolutely unbelievably remarkable situation -- as you pointed out people were strolling off that airplane is unreal.

LEMON: Yeah, it is unreal. And, you know, Jim, of course, you said, as you know, we worked together for a very long time in Chicago, I know your expertise in weather and both aviation, so we're glad to have you here on CNN today. Jim, I want you to listen to this witness, eyewitness, Anthony Castorani and then we'll talk, OK?


ANTHONY CASTORANI, WITNESS: Actually, it looked like it was coming in very nicely. It was pitched nose up maybe about three degrees. And as it was coming in, it came in. It touched down the runway a little earlier than I've seen most planes coming in and touching down, but the moment it touched down, the nose was still pitched up. The nose wheel never hit the ground yet, and what you typically see smoke from the wheels coming down on that initial touchdown, there was a larger plume of white smoke. You heard a pop. And then you immediately saw a large brief fireball that came out from underneath the aircraft. At that moment you could see that the aircraft was again starting to kind of lift and it began to cartwheel. And as it started to cartwheel to its left-hand side, the wing broke off on the left-hand side. You could see the tail immediately fly off of the aircraft. And as the aircraft cartwheeled, it then landed down and the other wing had broken off. And there was no fire or fireball with the crash after the initial one. There was a large plume of whiter smoke. After they began to douse it within about 20 minutes, then you began to see more darker smoke, maybe something else ignited in the - within the aircraft.

I've been sitting here watching it the entire time. Like, immediately after the initial shock where you just kind of -- gripping yourself with what just happened ...


LEMON: That was an eyewitness there Anthony Castorani reporting to CNN and Fredricka Whitfield just a short time ago what he witnessed. These are live pictures you're looking at from San Francisco International Airport. Look at that. You see debris spread across the runway there. And, again, I want to tell you that we are reporting this. We have a team of people reporting this from around the world. I want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world watching CNN including in South Korea as well. We're following some breaking news here for you on CNN.

Here's what we do know, OK? A large commercial airliner crashed and burned just a short time ago at the San Francisco International Airport's where you're looking at these live pictures now. It is a passenger plane. It's a Boeing 777 from Asiana Airlines, which is a large South Korean airline. The plane made what the FAA is calling a crash landing. The tail broke off, as you can see, you don't see a tail there. The top of the fuselage in flames as you can see. It burned. Witnesses say pieces of the wings and other parts were flying off of this plane. We don't know how many people were on the plane, how many of those were hurt. Possibly worse. We're still getting information now. We did see the emergency slides deployed from the side of this wreckage. We have new information now that I need to read to you that is coming from the Coast Guard. Here's what it says.

Lieutenant -- a lieutenant junior grade of the Coast Guard at San Francisco district said, we asked to confirm reports that the U.S. Coast Guard conducting a search had found a body. That's what we did. And that's what - here's what they tell to us. Or say to us. "I cannot confirm that. I know that there has been a helicopter launched. And we are assisting the responding agencies, but other than that, nothing else has been confirmed at this time."

So, CNN asking to confirm reports that the U.S. Coast Guard was conducting a search and has found a body. The U.S. Coast Guard saying to us and this is, quote, in full, "I cannot confirm that, I know that there has been a helicopter launched and we are assisting the responding agencies, but other than that nothing else has been confirmed at this time."

New information now, Rene Marsh is checking with the FAA and from the National Transportation Safety Board. What do you know, Rene?

MARSH: Well, Don, we're still waiting for more information about the folks who were on board this plane, but, again, we do know that at this point the NTSB saying that they plan on getting on a plane from here, Washington, D.C., heading with the chairman of the NTSB Deborah Hersman and she will be leading the investigation there at the airport there in San Francisco. So, of course, they're going to have to go through this piece by piece to figure out exactly what went wrong, was this something mechanical, was this pilot error. Those are all questions we do not know the answers to at this point. Of course, those NTSB investigations, they tend to be quite lengthy. It could be some time before we get any true definitive answers. But we hope that the picture will become a little clearer as the day goes on, but what we really want to know is how the folks are doing on board. Again, we just know, again, just based on the pictures here from the people that we've spoken to, from the sources that have spoken to us and they've seen the pictures themselves, they say that if you were on board this plane, you may have experienced a thump. You may have heard a screeching sound, a scratching sound of the bottom of the plane scraping up against the ground there. That all makes a lot of sense. What we see here, in which it looks clear, is that this plane did not impact the building. It did not impact a structure. So, we do know that. But as far as what else, as far as injuries, we don't know that. Perhaps some smoke inhalation is possible. Perhaps some overhead bins opened up in the process. Again, this is all speculation of what comes along with this kind of crash landing.

LEMON: Right.

MARSH: Of course, all the details will come out as we hear more from the FAA.

LEMON: And Rene, also getting from -- excuse me, from airline sources here, some of them where pilots are saying, if the plane had actually cartwheeled, it would have broke apart. It would not look like it does now. They are saying that the plane is pretty much -- the wing is intact as a matter of fact, and a cartwheel, the wings would probably not be intact. Rene, stand by, we'll get back to you again, if you get more information from federal agencies, we'd love to hear from you. I'm going to go to a witness now, Jennifer Sorgen.

MARSH: Now, Jennifer, tell us what you know. Again, we are talking - we heard from other people that they saw this plane cartwheeling. Again, the wings appear to be intact here. What do you know?

JENNIFER SORGEN, WITNESS: Yeah. I wouldn't say it was actually cartwheeling. We saw it hit, the tail broke off almost immediately upon hitting what appeared to be the end of the runway. It kind of did a belly flop landing. And we thought that it was going to maybe be OK. It was going to come in for a real hard landing, and then all of a sudden it flipped completely 360. And landed back upright. And it just started -- there was a fire and lots of smoke. And -- but in terms of the wings ...


SORGEN: You could see that.

LEMON: So, were you saying that the plane flipped over in flight 360 = 360 degrees ...

QUEST: Totally, Don.

LEMON: All the way around?

QUEST: Totally, Don.

SORGEN: Yeah. It turned -- yeah, from what we saw, it looked like it had actually turned completely around it. It even ...

QUEST: It moved - it moved - spun around. She means spun round.

LEMON: Richard, is that Richard Quest, is that you there?

QUEST: Forgive me. I think what she's saying is that the plane spun around 360, not went round 360. The plane ...

SORGEN: Right, yeah.

QUEST: Exactly right.


QUEST: Then it touched down and then spun round on its axis 360 degrees.

SORGEN: Yes. That's exactly right. It didn't appear that the wings broke off or anything of that nature. But it did, it definitely did spin around and then came to an abrupt stop. And that's then when we saw - it wasn't necessarily a huge explosion of fire, but there was definitely fire, lots of smoke, and at that point we were just waiting to.

QUEST: I need to talk to her. Where did you see -- where did you see the tail touch the ground? How far after it crossed the runway threshold, if you can remember what you saw, where did you see the first strike of the tail?

SORGEN: It seemed like the first strike of the tail was right at the end of the runway. We thought it was going -- it looked like it hit between where the end of the runway and the water meet. And that's where we saw the first impact, in what appeared that the tail had actually fallen off at that point or had broke apart and then it continued to proceed down the runway on its belly and that's when it did the 360 spin.

LEMON: So, Jennifer -- hang on, Richard, hang on Richard, and Jennifer. Just because I wanted to be completely clear here. We don't know exactly what happened. This is what - this is your assessment of what happened. When you say it's spun around, you don't mean it flipped over in the air, you mean once it hit the ground, it spun around, not a flip, correct?

SORGEN: Correct. That's -- It seemed more of a spin kind of flop. Like the wings did not appear to like break off in some type of - their chart. It definitely was kind somewhat airborne when it did just spin-around flip. But, yeah, it definitely wasn't necessarily a cartwheel.

LEMON: Got you.

SORGEN: It seemed like the wings were still intact.

LEMON: OK. Got you.


LEMON: Yeah, go ahead. Who is that? Is that Jim? Hold on one second. Before we do this, I want to just read this. This is from Boeing Planes, this is a tweet from Boeing Planes, it says. "Our thoughts are with everyone affected by today's incident at SFO, we stand ready to assist the NTSB again." That is Boeing. Jennifer, stand by. Richard Quest, stand by. Go ahead, Jim Tilmon.

TILMON: Well, I mean I think you should absolutely - what happens once the tail separates from the airplane, you have no control, lateral control, that is the twisting of the airplane around its axis. You do have a little bit of control, perhaps, still within the wing structure to keep the wings relatively level and that was one of the reasons, the fact that it was level, that you may have a lot of people survive this because had the airplane gone upside down or done the cartwheel like what has been described before, we would have had not only more structural damage, we may very well have had a lot more injuries on board. So, what happened was this thing was spinning like a top around ...

LEMON: Right.

TILMON: As opposed to cartwheeling like has been described before.

LEMON: Got it. It was a spin on the ground like a top, not a cartwheel, not a flip of the airplane in midair.

TILMON: That's correct. That's just ...

LEMON: That clears that up.

TILMON: Loss of lateral control. You have no control over that part of that airplane slide.

LEMON: Right. And again, I'm not the aviation expert, but the part that would control that would be the rudder, right? And once that ...

TILMON: Yes, absolutely.

LEMON: And once that rear section is gone, you have no control. OK. OK.

TILMON: That's correct, Don.

LEMON: OK, OK. Let's go. Stand by. I want to go to Diana Magnay who is in Seoul with reaction from there. Diana, what do you have for us?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Don, very little right now. It's 5:20 in the morning and we've been trying Asiana Airlines and we've been trying the various ministries. And for now there's nothing. And I mean we're going to be monitoring the situation obviously and this plane came from Seoul on its way to San Francisco, so you can expect that that will be considerable reaction in the hours to come, but for now given the time, it is very limited what I can tell you really about this airline. Which is -- which is basically Korea's second biggest airline to Korean Air. And as we were hearing from Richard a little earlier, you know, not necessarily one that has a bad record for safety. It's one that's considered especially good for service. But for now I can't really give you more than that.

LEMON: OK. Diana, stand by. It's very early on, and we can understand the information will be coming out as well. And after all, the accident did happen here in the United States, and not in South Korea. Diana, stand by. If you get any more information, we'll get back to you as well.

I'm Don Lemon live in New York. This is breaking news here on CNN. You're looking at the pictures live from our affiliate KPIX, this is San Francisco International Airport where a large commercial airline has crashed and burned just a short time ago on its approach to the airport there. You're looking at live pictures, again. It's a passenger plane. It is a Boeing 777, a Boeing 777 from Asiana Airlines, which is a large South Korean airline, which is why you heard from our Diana Magnay in South Korea there, she's getting reaction from South Korea. Worldwide resources of CNN on top of this story. I would like to welcome our viewers who are in the United States and also around the world and many of them watching us from South Korea right now and on other international networks as well.

Again, we're following the breaking news here on CNN. What we know as a plane made what the FAA is calling a crash landing. According to witnesses, they say the plane spun around on the air once it crash landed, spun around like atop. Not flipped over in the air, but spun around, because the rear section had broken off, and the rudder usually controls that, so they had no control over that. The tail broke off. The plane. The top of the fuselage burned. You are looking at these I-reports from earlier as this plane was burning and then now, again, live pictures there. Witnesses say pieces of the wings and other parts were flying off of this plane. The wing section mostly intact. But we have seen other parts on the runway and scattered about the airport there on the runway. What you're looking at now is a picture taken from a passenger who was fleeing this plane shortly after it crash landed there. We don't know how many people were on board the plane, how many other people were hurt. We don't know of anything else, any fatalities, anything right now. The Coast Guard upon asking them about a report that they were conducting a search and that a body had been found, they said they cannot confirm that. They said I know that there has been a helicopter launched and we are assisting the responding agencies, but other than that, nothing else has been confirmed at this time.

So, this is what we know. A horrific situation coming out of San Francisco right now, where people possibly may be injured. We don't know yet. And then again, everyone may have gotten off of this airplane safely with possibly minor injuries. Again, let's go back to Fredricka Whitfield, who is in Atlanta. Fredricka covered this story right when it broke on the air, and Tom Sater is there as well in the CNN severe weather center. Tom, we heard there from Jim Tilmon who is also a meteorologist, he said the conditions were perfect.


LEMON: The conditions were fine. So, what gives here?

SATER: You know, we're going to put this to rest as Fredricka and I talked about earlier, Don, obviously they're going to put this in the reports. There will be full detail of every hourly weather observation, even the conditions at flight level on its approach. These were ideal flight conditions. I mean we're just going to put it to rest right now.

Take a look behind me, these are the conditions on landing. Visibility is ten miles. Now, that's the top of the scale. It was probably better than that. So, it doesn't get any better. Ceiling is unlimited, which means with partly cloudy skies, obviously we didn't have the thunderstorm activity because the lack of cloud cover. Wind speed, eight miles per hour. Now, the fastest wind speed I could find was at 10:00 P.M. the night before and that's 13 miles per hour, even that is doable, so, again, it couldn't have been better. If we look at the satellite picture now, this is the time of the year, and even Jim Tilmon mentioned this, on the West Coast for those who are not familiar with it, from San Francisco in the bay area, all the way down to San Diego, you do get a marine layer ...


SATER: And that moves in and that creates some visibility problems, but that burns off at 10:30, you know, 11:30 in the morning. That was not a problem. The radar is clear.

But Fredricka, let's take a look at this. And this comes from flight where - Don, this is quite interesting, the flight comes in, and this is the Asiana flight comes in along the coast on the northwest flight line, it comes down and then banks around to the right. In fact, you can actually see it here as it flies around into the bay. And then it comes and approaches the landing. We're going to get in a little bit closer here. In fact, you can actually see where the runway is. As it banks back and around, this is where the plane is, but what's ideal here and we all saw it here, the video, which is amazing, Fredricka -- we'll show it again.

WHITFIELD: But it's telling the story.

SATER: Yes. We don't have to be flight specialists to see the beginning of the runway. We're going to show it here again. The cobblestones where it meets the water. I mean Jim Tilmon even mentioned that there's a blacktop area that tells the pilot, OK, this is the, you know, the runway that is - we're starting to approach. So he actually may have just come in too low as we've been talking about. Now, there was a northwest wind. It's a proverbial northwest wind at only about seven miles per hour, so that does create for those flights that come in in this correction a little bit of a headwind so they can keep the nose up, and you can see it here.

WHITFIELD: Well, in fact, I asked Jim Tilmon about that earlier, if this happens to be an airport that promotes a certain challenge to a lot of pilots. And he said, absolutely not, if you think of New York, you think of Washington National, and you think of San Francisco.

SATER: Right.

WHITFIELD: He painted the picture that these are airports that these pilots are proficient enough to understand, you know, how to read the weather, how to read the potential weather conditions ...

SATER: Right.

WHITFIELD: -- and how to make landings near water and he discounted that as being a potential problem here.

SATER: It's more of a challenge for us as ...

WHITFIELD: It really is.

SATER: You know, passengers.

WHITFIELD: And that's a natural question, I think, people ask when they see an accident of this caliber, they think what was the weather right away.

SATER: Right.

WHITFIELD: We know that San Francisco it often has, you know, overcast conditioned.

SATER: Right.

WHITFIELD: But you ruled it out. That wasn't the issue today.

SATER: Yeah, they'll still put a report on it, but, you know, Don, I mean hour by hour, they couldn't have been better. Sky conditions, visibility, unlimited ceiling and light winds.

WHITFIELD: And it seems like, Don, it also created a situation where you had eyewitnesses, you heard them earlier, who were able to get a clear view whether it was someone who was in a hotel room nearby, whether it was somebody else who we talked to who was in a plane that was on the tarmac, they were able to see the contact that took place.

SATER: Yeah, those are the pictures.

WHITFIELD: Right there on the edge -- on the approach to that tarmac, to that runway for landing, that the tail hit. And you could see the debris field. And Jim Tilmon, well, he speaks much more proficiently about exactly reading the debris field, he helped to explain as if you just look at that and you see how that tail was hit. Once that tail hit that tarmac or those rocks in that way, it was really all over for this flight.

SATER: You know, Fredricka, next to the picture of the survivors, this is the story right here.

WHITFIELD: It is a story.

SATER: I mean it's beautiful to see the survivors walk of the flame, but this video that you're seeing there, I think that tells the whole story.

WHITFIELD: Incredible. All right. Don Lemon, back to you.

LEMON: Thank you very, very much.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

LEMON: It is the bottom of the hour. I'm Don Lemon live here in New York and I want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world watching CNN international and other networks. We are following breaking news here on CNN.

Here's the information that we have for you -- just a short time ago at the San Francisco International Airport a large commercial airliner crashed and burned just a short time ago. It is a passenger plane, a Boeing 777 from Asiana Airlines, which is a large South Korean airline. We have live pictures as well as pictures from passengers who were fleeing that plane. The one you just saw was a passenger. This one is live pictures. This is a live picture.

You can see the tail section of this plane is gone. You can see the top of the fuselage is burned. The wings are mostly intact.

Parts of them, though, have fallen off. Parts of the plane fell off when this crash landing happened there. There you can see it spread across the runway there, what appears to be landing gear on the runway. You're looking at those pictures.

The stairs were deployed. The slides were deployed for people to get off of this plane very quickly. We don't know exactly how many people were on board the plane, the extent of any injuries, if any at all -- the extent of injuries, if any at all.

And we want to see one of the first videos we got in to CNN right after this crash, let's take a look.

This is a video that came off of YouTube shortly after this crash, apparently from someone inside of the airport. You can see the plane burning there. And according to witnesses, the plane made a crash landing. They also said they saw the plane spin around like a top -- important to clarify. Not a flip in the air, but spun around like a top.

I want to get to CNN's Richard Quest now.

Richard, this airplane is located -- I mean, this airport is located about 12 miles from San Francisco, downtown San Francisco proper. One of the 30 busiest airport -- airports worldwide, 37 million people flying through this airport, obviously a very proficient airport.

And for this to happen on a Saturday afternoon obviously tragic. We don't know exactly what went wrong here, but obviously something did.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Oh, absolutely. And what we can say, of course, is -- I mean, San Francisco, like LAX, they are the major Asian-Pacific gateways for the United States.

Looking at the pictures now, hearing what Jim Tilmon said, hearing what the other eyewitness has said about how this plane spun round after the tail hit the ground, we can start to -- we won't -- we will not -- let me -- let's be absolutely blunt and clear.

We will not know why this tail hit the end of the runway at the early stage that it did for many weeks, if not months, until the NTSB produces its first interim and then final report. But clearly what we can now see, of course, is the chronology of events as stated by eyewitnesses.

You've got to go back quite some time before you see, of course, previous incidents in the United States. The Colgan/Continental Airline incident which happened in 2009 and 49 people died in that incident. But you're talking about major passenger jets, large scale, 200, 300- seat passenger jets, you really are going back through until 2001 before you actually see -- you go back to November of 2001 where you have the American Airlines incident where 260 people died in that.

So, the size of this sort of aircraft having a fatality or emergencies of this manner is very rare. And that's why the investigators will want to know exactly what was happening on that aircraft at the moment of touchdown. And also one other thing, Don, they'll want to know, because it's not just enough to know why or how this crash happened. They'll want to know about the evacuation procedures --

LEMON: Right.

QUEST: -- the safety procedures that could be improved in the future. Look at the pictures. The pictures show that the roof of the fuselage is burned out from the back of the cockpit pretty much to the aft of the wings. But the rear of the aircraft is untouched. So, they're going to want to know about all the dynamics of a fire that took place, what happened in that fire which could have, of course, impede passengers from leaving the aircraft and that will be part of the final investigation. Not only why or what the pilots or whatever happened in the cockpit in terms of the landing itself.

LEMON: And, Richard, looking at this particular plane, it hasn't spun around yet, but I am able to see only if you're looking, if you're sitting on the plane looking forward as you would flying --


LEMON: -- I only see the engine on the right wing --

QUEST: The left engine has disengaged from the aircraft. The tail, all the rear has disengaged from the aircraft. You can see the rear pressure bulkhead, that's the green bit at the back of the aircraft. We have slides primarily on the right of the aircraft.

This is a 777-200ER aircraft, I was saying "LR" but it's an ER, extended range aircraft, that's what Asiana uses across the Pacific. It was delivered -- the delivery date was 2006, so it's a young plane by any definition for this sort of route.

We can see the forward ladder extended. We can see it's in landing configuration. Something happened which caused the aircraft to tail strike or to come down heavy, which then has left the landing gear collapsing which has caused the aircraft to spin round and multiple times before leaving the runway. And what the investigators will focus on is the -- is those final moments of flight and then focus on the evacuation, the fire, which looks to have been fierce at the top of the fuselage.

LEMON: OK. Just getting new information in, Richard, from the FAA -- flights into and out of San Francisco airport has been canceled following the crash of Asiana Flight 214 from Seoul, South Korea. That's again according to the FAA, all flights have been canceled in and out of San Francisco International Airport. Some of those flights are being diverted to LAX.

So if you are concerned about someone there, please contact the airline for details. But, again, flights canceled in and out of San Francisco International Airport. Some of the flights are being sent to LAX, diverted to LAX, because of this.

I want to go to CNN's Dana Bash now.

Dana, you were near the airport and you were trying to make your way I would assume from San Francisco back to D.C.? Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Sorry, Don, can you hear me now?

LEMON: Yes, I can hear you now.

BASH: Sorry about that.

LEMON: Yes, go ahead. Tell us where you were and what you saw.

BASH: That's exactly right. I was with family here, I am with family here in San Francisco and I was heading to the airport to make my way back to Washington where I live. And we were turning the corner coming off the Hawaii and suddenly everybody slammed on their brakes.

And as we got closer, we realized the reason and it was because we could see the smoke sort of billowing up from the runway where this plane had clearly crashed. And obviously we -- I'm sure everybody around us did the same thing, turned on the radio and we heard the news pretty fast.

Then a police car came up and told us and everybody else that was trying to get into the airport, you know, sorry, the airport's closed, you got to move and so they diverted traffic, you know, from pretty much the moment we saw that smoke on, we didn't see any planes take off. We didn't see any planes land. And, you know, I think what is noteworthy, I saw somebody talking about the weather not being a factor. There's not a cloud in the sky here in the San Francisco area, at least over SFO. So, certainly doesn't seem like that was the issue at least on the landing portion of the flight.

LEMON: OK. And so, Dana, immediately you saw -- one person said they didn't see a fireball, they just saw smoke.

BASH: That's exactly right. Now, I didn't see the actual crash happened. We kind of came around the bend on the highway probably minutes, maybe even seconds after it happened, but that's exactly what we saw. We just saw a plume of smoke going up. And then in the distance we didn't know it for sure but it certainly looked like it was the plane that had just crashed on the runway.

Certainly -- as you can imagine extremely eerie, and obviously we are not alone in that we are holiday travelers and we were coming up to a major, major airport trying to get on a plane at the end of a holiday week and we were diverted and I'm probably like many people right now making phone calls trying to get alternative transportation, alternative flights home, you know, thank goodness it doesn't -- we're still waiting to hear specifics about what happened to the people on the plane, but, you know, thank goodness that is, you know, a concern right now more or as much as the fact that people were on this plane and are certainly very scared.

LEMON: All right. Dana Bash, stand by. We're going to need you throughout the evening here on CNN.

Again, breaking news here on CNN: A large commercial airliner crashed and burned just a short time ago at the San Francisco International Airport. You're looking at pictures from the scene now. You can see the top of the fuselage burned out here. You can also see on a wider shot that there is no rudder. The tail section is completely off of this plane.

This is a Boeing 777 from Asiana Airlines which is a large South Korean airline. This is what we know right now. The FAA is calling this a crash landing.

The tail broke off the plane as we had been saying. You're looking at it there. The top of the fuselage burned, pieces of the tail and other parts of the plane were flying everywhere we're told. We're not sure how many people were on board of this plane. We're not sure of the extent of the injuries if any at all.

We did see emergency slides deployed. Emergency slide on both sides of the plane deployed here so that passengers could get off of this plane very quickly. We have a team of reporters around the country also in south Korea as well, and our Richard Quest is in London and several aviation experts to help guide us through this story until we figure out exactly what happened to those passengers, if those passengers are OK. And if there's any early information we can find out about what might have caused this crash.

We do know in the moments since this happened, planes were stopped on the runway here. They were diverted in the air. And just in the last few minutes, we have been told confirmed the FAA has confirmed that all flights in and out of San Francisco International Airport canceled. Some of them being diverted to other airports. One large airport in the area or close would be LAX in Los Angeles, and that's where some of the flights are going now.

If you need information we are told that you can check with particular carriers; 5:30 -- 5:30 Eastern Time, I'm just getting information from my producer in my ear now, 5:30 Eastern Time, the National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB, holding a press conference and we will carry that for you live. They will be live in Washington with that, and we will carry it for you live.

Also as I get more information here, I want to tell you, this is also reportable in to CNN, a national security official tells CNN there are no signs of terrorism from the crash. OK?

Also other details that we are getting in from here is that -- again, the airport has been closed. There were reports that the Coast Guard were looking for someone in the water. We asked that question to the Coast Guard. They said they would confirm that a team had been sent out but no other information about that and, again, 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time a press conference with the NTSB will be held live and we'll carry for you on CNN.

Let's look at some of the iReports that we're getting in now from people who were very close to the situation. This is someone from -- this is Christie Miller -- Christine miller, who is a CNN iReporter who took this picture shortly after that crash happened. Another iReport, and I can't read the name from that one as well, but it's a CNN iReporter, taking a picture from a little bit further out.

Sven Duenwald (ph), thank you for your pictures here. You can send them to if you have them.

This is Val Barden (ph) who also sent a picture in.

Now, live pictures now. This is from our affiliate KGO in San Francisco. And you can see the emergency apparatus going onto the tarmac now to try to help with the situation here. These are ground shots from San Francisco International Airport. And you are getting this -- you are seeing this just as I am seeing it. The crash happened just a little bit over an hour ago, but still much to clean up, tons of investigating to do. And probably some people to tend to, the people who were on board that plane.

And you can see, again, the ambulance is going out towards the tarmac there. Emergency vehicles going out towards the tarmac, and you heard from Mary Schiavo who is formerly with the FAA saying, again, that they're going to have recordings that will help them out with this particular situation.

I am counting ten emergency vehicles so far at least going out there, ten ambulances, plus other vehicles including fire trucks, hook and ladder and I'm sure all of the resources there in San Francisco are available and they are on top of it. This is their number one priority. Again, this is a big story happening here in the United States, but this flight originated in Seoul, South Korea.

As we look at the burnt-out wreckage of this airplane we want to tell you, again, we don't know how many people were on board this plane and if there are any injuries. We are working to get that information for you.

But they are sending emergency vehicles onto the runway here and we're not exactly sure what is going on at this, you know, moments after this crash happened when it appears everyone is off this plane, at least we hope everyone is off the plane. We're waiting for official word on that.

More information -- this is from a source here at CNN. It says Asiana Airlines is currently investigating what caused flight 214 to crash land at San Francisco airport. That's a spokesman from Asiana airlines told CNN. It's currently 5:43 in the morning in Seoul, South Korea. So, they are -- it's really early there and they're just getting news of this information as well. Let's go to Rene Marsh who is following the developments for us from Washington, D.C., where that NTSB press conference will be held in Washington just over an hour, an hour and about 15 minutes we'll hear from the NTSB.

What new information, if any, are you getting, Rene?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, what we want to do now is kind of flesh out where they go from here. We are going to get some initial information from the NTSB, of course, they're en route, they'll be making their way there to the crash scene.

But how this will all work is the first thing they're going to do when they get on the ground is they're going to want to talk to those local officials, find out what kind of information they have and know about the people who were on board as well as the debris field, things of that sort.

Also, as you would imagine, they'd want to inspect the damage, and it will be broken up, the NTSB team, will be broken up into different groups that specialize in different things, so you'll have your weather group that will look at weather conditions. We just heard earlier that it was a perfect day for flying, but they'll want to prove that for themselves. So, they'll have a group focusing specifically on that.

Then you'll have a group looking at air traffic control and the communications between the tower and the pilot. So, they'll be looking at that aspect.

And then they'll be looking really closely at the pilots, the pilot's training, how did this pilot sleep the night before, what did he eat the night before. Of course, they'll be drug and alcohol testing as well on people on board as far as the crew members go.

And then last but certainly not least is they're going to want to look at the landing gear, the mechanics of this plane. These are all the pieces that are going to go into this investigation. And we can expect a number of briefings in the upcoming days from the NTSB. Simply revealing exactly what they've been finding out as the day goes on. Of course, we know these investigations take quite some time.

The key here, of course, is going to be those black boxes. There are two black boxes typically on board these planes. You have the flight data recorder. You also have the cockpit voice recorder.

And on that cockpit voice recorder, you can hear things like the voices. You can hear background noises. You can hear if there was a warning signal that may have gone off.

The key here, though, is those boxes are usually in the tail of the plane and we can see from those pictures what happened to the tail of the plane. But the good news, though, Don, usually those devices are packed in pretty sturdy, so we can bet that they will be pulling out those black boxes, bringing them back here to Washington, D.C., so they can analyze the data there and piece together exactly what went terribly wrong there in San Francisco -- Don.

LEMON: And, Rene, we will be getting back to you as well when this NTSB press conference happens at 5:30 Eastern Time, Rene Marsh, in Washington, thank you very much.

I want to go to Jim Tilmon, who is an aviation expert.

Let's talk more about what happens here. The black boxes, the information, and probably eyewitnesses from the control tower as well will help with this, Jim?

JIM TILMON, AVIATION EXPERT (via telephone): Well, this is -- we're very fortunate in many ways to have so many elements of investigation there intact like the boxes, which incidentally are not black as you know. They are really orange.

But they will be able to discover so much about every aspect; the most modern and sophisticated recording devices on any commercial airplane are on that 777. So they're going to know every single thing that -- that you can learn to what the airplane was doing and listening to the cockpit voice recorder we cannot only hear what the crew was saying, we can also as someone mentioned earlier hear all the warnings, the warning sounds, the bells, the horns, whatever is going off in the cockpit at that time.

One other little thing that I noticed in looking at some of your shots there, Don, this aircraft was approaching just slightly right of the center line. As you look at the debris field on the end of the runway, you'll find that the debris starts and continues right of the center line.

I got to tell you something, the crews that fly these aircraft try to nail that center line right underneath the cockpit. They want to make sure that they're right on the best part of the landing surface.

So, I don't know what happened at that point. And that would be real speculation. But if you look at the debris field, it was all lined up pretty nicely on the right of the center line of that -- of what was the runway. And so, those who are not familiar with the picture, if you look at the picture and you see anything but black surface, you're not looking at the runway. You are looking at the approach to the runway, to give the crew a guide as to where you want to be when the runway starts.

You don't want your gear to touch down until you are well beyond that, something on the neighborhood of maybe 1,000 feet down the runway before you really want to see the main gear touch the ground.

So, yes, they did touch down very, very early and that led to disaster.

LEMON: All right, Jim Tilmon, I want you to stand by, because I want to reset what happened, what's going on for our viewers in case you are just tuning in here on CNN.

We are following breaking news at San Francisco's International Airport. A large commercial airliner, a Boeing 777, from Asiana Airlines, crash landed just a short time ago. A number of passengers on board, we're not exactly sure how many passengers were on board. We're not sure of any injuries.

We do know that many passengers ran off this plane, some of them taking pictures as the ones you are seeing now, as they were fleeing the plane and trying to get to safety here.

Again, we're being told by the FAA that this was a crash landing. What they call a textbook crash landing.

The tail broke off the plane. The fuselage at the top, you can see partially burned, most of it is gone. And as you look at this picture right now, you can see there is no tail section, there is no rudder on this plane. We did see the emergency slides deploy as well. And we're getting all sorts of new information here as well.

I'm being told just at the top of the hour in just a few minutes there's going to be a press conference in San Francisco. There's going to be another press conference at the bottom of the hour at 5:30 Eastern Time from Washington and the FAA.

We can also tell you this, a national security officials tells CNN there are no signs of terrorism from this crash.

That flights have been canceled in and out of San Francisco's International Airport. Many of them because it's a large airport have been diverted to LAX, I know there are other airports that are closer, but LAX is a much bigger airport and can absorb some of the plane -- some of the planes and flights that are coming in more readily and more easily than some of the smaller airports that may be closer.

Diana Magnay is in Seoul now.

Diana, it is what, 5:30 in the morning there. Any information that you're getting?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, 5:50. We know that this plane took off at 4:53 yesterday afternoon, Don. It's a little over ten hours that it takes to reach San Francisco from Seoul's international airport which is Asiana Airlines international hub.

And we know that Asiana which is basically Korea's second largest airline next to Korean Air, is well known for its good customer service as well as this airport which has consistently won awards for being one of the best airports that you can fly from.

It's obviously incredibly early in the morning here, and we're waiting to hear any kind of reaction from anyone who was on board that plane. Apparently the capacity for 777 aircraft which this is between 260 and 310 passengers.

I'll just tell you a little bit more about Asiana's fleet. It has 79 aircraft, and this 777 is a young plane, delivered in 2006. As I said, its international hub is Incheon, and it serves 21 countries internationally, 71 cities. And Asiana has responded to our calls and they're basically just waking up saying that they are investigating what happened.

We'll keep in regular contact with them and, of course, with the ministries to get you reaction from Seoul which is obviously where this flight originated from, mid-afternoon yesterday -- Don.

LEMON: All right, Diana Magnay, stand by. We'll be needing you throughout the evening here on CNN. Again, 5:54 in the morning in Seoul, South Korea. They're just waking up to get news about this.

I want to say that Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg was supposed to be on this Asiana flight. She just posted this on Facebook. Sandberg -- can we roll that back? Thank you very much.

She has 1.204 million passengers. She did this 16 minutes ago. She says, "Taking a minute to be thankful and explain what happened. My family, colleagues, Debbie Frost, Charlton Gholson and Kelly Hoffman and I were originally going to take the Asiana flight that just crash landed. We switched to United so we could use miles for my family's tickets, our flight was scheduled to come in at the same time, but we were early and landed 20 minutes before the crash."

"Our friend David Eun," who had you been seeing, you've been seeing photos, "he was on that Asiana flight. He is fine."

And she says, "Thank you to everyone who is reaching out and sorry if we worried anyone. Serious moment to give thanks.'

Again, that's from Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook.

So she was supposed to be on that flight, she and other workers and colleagues and friends. They didn't take it except for David Eun who you have been seeing his pictures here live on CNN. He tweeted that picture out moments after he got free of that airplane. We're waiting for a press conference from San Francisco at the top of the hour just moments from now here on CNN so they can update us on exactly what happened here.

Horrific situation as you can see. No doubt the pictures tell most of the story here and I'm sure we'll be hearing from passengers very soon here on CNN as they get their bearings, as they get out of the airport, and they begin to tell us their stories. I'm sure harrowing about what happened on this flight as it crash landed at San Francisco International Airport. Again, a press conference from San Francisco expected any moment now at the top of the hour and one at the bottom of the hour 5:30 Eastern from the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington, D.C.

My colleague, Richard Quest, who covers the airline industry and has been covering aviation successes and failures and disasters for many years now.

Richard, as you look at this and the pictures and you hear what's going on here, what's your assessment? QUEST: Well, I want to refer you to something that is now on Twitter, where somebody has posted pictures in which they have modeled the descent profile for this particular flight, both yesterday and today.

Now, planes normally descend at an average of three degrees. That's known as the glide slope that will take them and a continuing glide slope of three degrees that will take them all the way down to the runway.

We don't know, of course, whether they were using auto land here. I guess we don't know. We don't know also what other form of landing aids they were using in terms of that.

But the general rule is three degrees generally will take you all the way down to the runway once you're on the glide slope.

Now, here's the point. Somebody has posted on Twitter, and I can't confirm it, but it is an interesting point worth pointing out that if you look at FlightAware which is one of the models and one of the places where we find out where planes, the descent of this flight today is appreciably steeper than it was yesterday.

In other words, this plane did have a steeper descent as it came into its final approach to SFO. There could be a thousand and one reasons for that, there's no doubt question about it. It's not -- you know, the pilot may have decided that, air traffic control may have required it, whatever it might have been.

But I'm just putting it out there, that if you look at the descent of yesterday versus today, the plane did come in for a much steeper approach than it did yesterday.

LEMON: Interesting to ponder there, Richard.

Hey, Richard, stick with me. Because I want to read something that I just got in here. Listen, when you see these pictures and you hear from the people who were at least near the scene, it's quite surprising that we're not talking about more casualties or in darker tones right now.

QUEST: No question.

LEMON: But we don't know. We don't know.

But this is what I want to tell you, Richard, the U.S. Coast Guard has transported one person linked to Saturday's plane crash to Stanford Hospital, OK? Stanford Hospital. That's according to the coast guard. They're not sure of the patient's status.

We may be hearing different -- you know, more stories to come out, but at this point it seems that we, you know, that we're not speaking in those darker tones now and that may not be as horrific as it could have been -- Richard.

QUEST: Have crash landed or had fires on the runway, British Airtours in the 1980s, Air France in Toronto. Now, Air France, of course, and miraculous one in fact, the A-340 landed and everybody got off. There were multiple deaths in the British Airtours fire.

Once fire starts, if you survive the impact, fire becomes your worst enemy -- fire, smoke, and fume becomes your worst enemy by far in any form of aviation accident.

LEMON: And, Richard Quest, I'm going to need you. I'm going to need the rest of our experts in the field as well. Don't go anywhere.