(CBS News) Dark smoke rose into a clear and sunny sky over the airport after the Boeing 777 jetliner broke apart on landing and skidded off the runway, barely missing San Francisco Bay.
Benjamin Levy was in seat 30K, just behind the wing.
"It was, like, we were about to land, the nose of the plane as you know goes up a little bit and then full throttles, start hitting hard. And then it felt like we were going up again. Like I said, it was like one of those [where] the guy missed landing and then goes back up. It didn't happen. We just crashed back."
As the passengers on Asiana Flight 214 fled down emergency slides, witnesses near the airport tried to make sense of what they had just seen.
"It was taking the same angle that they always come in, and the wheels were down," said one man, "and something was wrong."
Landings here come in low over San Francisco Bay. Eyewitnesses suggest the tail of Asiana Flight 214 hit the sea wall at the edge of the runway and broke off.
From his home overlooking the airport, Ki Siadata watches planes landing all the time. This one looked different.
"All of a sudden as he got right up to the runway, we just heard a really loud boom, and before we knew it, the plane had come to a stop about 50 yards down," Siadata said. "It was lost in a sea of smoke and black dust."
"It was chaos, you know," said Levy. "But we managed to get everyone to calm down quickly and really started getting out and not pushing each other. It felt like it went really fast."
Inside the airport James White was waiting to meet a group of Korean schoolchildren.
"We got this picture of a plane on fire," said White. "Nobody would come out. They hung up on us three times. Information people just say, 'Go talk to Asiana.' Finally someone's coming out and they say, 'Go downstairs.' No one is downstairs. Just standing there waiting."
There was confusion as dozens of injured passengers were sent to nine different hospitals.
X-rays showed Benjamin Levy's ribs were not broken, but like many others, he's painfully bruised.
"I was in the ambulance with two people that had obviously spine injuries," he said. "A lot of people have broken ribs, bruised ribs, spine injuries. Maybe some people hopefully will walk again."
As investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board begin their search for a cause, the most remarkable fact perhaps is that so many of the 291 passengers walked away unscathed from a major airline disaster.