SAN FRANCISCO Police officers threw utility knives up to crew members inside the burning wreckage of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 so they could cut away passengers' seat belts. Passengers jumped down emergency slides, escaping the smoke. One walked through a hole where a rear bathroom had been.
Amid the chaos, some urged fellow passengers to keep calm, even as flames tore through the Boeing 777's fuselage.
As investigators try to determine what caused the crash of Flight 214 that killed two passengers Saturday at San Francisco International Airport, the accident left many wondering how nearly all 307 people aboard were able to make it out alive.
"It's miraculous we survived," said passenger Vedpal Singh, who had a fractured collarbone and whose arm was in a sling.
San Francisco Fire Department Chief Joanne Hayes-White said 19 people remain hospitalized, six of them in critical condition.
She said at a news conference outside San Francisco General Hospital the two 16-year-old girls who died were found on either side of the plane near the "front middle." Investigators are determining whether they were alive or dead when rescuers reached the scene.
Hayes-White said first responders told her they saw people at the edge of the bay dousing themselves with water, possibly to cool burn injuries.
San Francisco General Hospital Chief of Surgery Margaret Knudson said at least two people injured that were treated there are paralyzed and two others suffered road rash-type injuries suggesting they were dragged.
She said doctors at the hospital have also seen abdominal and orthopedic injuries and head trauma. Patients with severe abdominal injuries and spinal fractures appear to have suffered them from being thrown forward and back while restrained by seat belts.
Witnesses and passengers have said the pilot revved the plane's engines shortly before everyone heard a loud "bang." It is unclear whether the plane's landing gear or tail hit the seawall at the edge of the runway first, but either way the tail was ripped off the plane shortly after impact. One witness told CBS News the plane did a "," before it came to a rest some 50 yards further down the runway.
"There was significant damage on the aircraft," National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman told CBS' "Face the Nation." "And you've all seen the pictures of the burned fuselage, the damaged fuselage. But inside the aircraft, there is significant structural damage. And, so, when we see that, we are certainly very thankful that there weren't more fatalities and serious injuries.
"Our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones, and to those who are in the hospital for their recovery," she continued. "But I will tell you this is a survivable accident. We saw so many people walk away. And what's really important is for people to understand that airplane crashes the majority of them are survivable."
South Korean government officials said the passengers included 141 Chinese, 77 South Koreans, 61 Americans, three Canadians, three from India, one Japanese, one Vietnamese and one from France, while the nationalities of the remaining three haven't been confirmed.