Asiana plane crash echoes '08 British Airways incident

LONDON - JANUARY 18: Crash investigators inspect wreckage and debris from grounded British Airways flight 777 at Heathrow Airport on January 18, 2008 in London, England. The plane which was returning from China, landed short of the runway, all passengers and crew survived the emergency landing.
Photo by Cate Gillon/Getty Images

The crash of a Boeing 777 Asiana Airlines flight Saturday at San Francisco International Airport -- which has so far claimed the lives of two people and left 61 injured -- is drawing comparisons to a similar situation that happened five years ago at London's Heathrow Airport.

In that incident, British Airways flight 38 from Beijing to London, carrying 136 passengers and 16 crew members, crash-landed short of the runway at Heathrow on Jan 17, 2008. There were no fatalities and 18 people were taken to the hospital with mostly minor injuries. The plane's undercarriage was ripped off and the left wing sustained damage.

"I could hear the undercarriage come out and the next moment the plane just dropped," said passenger Paul Venter at the time.

Investigators found the plane lost power shortly before landing. In an interim Air Accidents Investigation Branch report, it summarized "the fuel flow to both engines were restricted; most probably due to ice within the fuel feed system."

An eyewitness, Neil Jones, said: "You could see the pilot was desperate, trying to get the plane down. The aircraft hit the grass and there was a lot of dirt. The pilot was struggling to keep the plane straight. I think he did a great job."

An airport worker spoke to the BBC and praised the actions of the pilot, Peter Burkill. "It's a miracle," said the worker. "The man deserves a medal as big as a frying pan."

The plane came down in a grassy area on the airport grounds. The pilot told the BBC his first priority after the plane skidded to a stop was to get everyone on board evacuated as quickly as possible, in case fire broke out.

Safety experts say fire can burn through the fusealge of an aircraft in just 90 seconds, so flight crews are trained to get passengers out fast.

In the case of Asiana Airlines flight 214 in San Francisco, it appears many passengers and crew were able to make it down the emergency slides before smoke and fire overtook the aircraft.