SAN FRANCISCO The weather was crystal clear. The 5,600-mile flight was moments from touching down on Runway 28 at San Francisco International Airport. And then the passengers heard the loud bang.
Within moments of the 11:27 a.m. crash landing, Asiana Airways Flight 214 skidded, lost its tail and caught fire, burning two huge holes in the top of the Boeing 777 fuselage.
Black smoke billowed from the crash site as emergency slides deployed on the sides of the enormous plane and hundreds of passengers slid to safety.
By nightfall, officials were still trying to tally the damage but said two people were confirmed dead and nearly 200 sent to area hospitals.
"At the moment it touched the runway, there was a bang and we knew something had gone wrong," passenger Vedpal Singh said Saturday night at SFO's international terminal, where he stood with his left arm in a sling and said he was still trying to locate his wife. "I'm really, really thankful to God."
Singh, who said he was sitting in the middle of the plane, was among the 291 passengers and 16 crew members on the flight, which originated in Shanghai, China, and was inbound from Seoul, South Korea.
The crash, which closed SFO for more than four hours and left thousands of passengers stranded inside the terminal, resulted in more than 100 law enforcement officials, firefighters and investigators poring over the site.
"You've got to understand, we've got this incredibly chaotic scene," said San Francisco Police Lt. Dominic Yin.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the FBI dispatched investigators to the site but said there was no evidence that the incident was anything more than an aviation accident.
"At this point in time, there is no indication of terrorism being involved," said David Johnson, the special agent in charge of the San Francisco FBI field office.
Officials said 181 people from the plane were taken to area hospitals, 49 of them with injuries considered at least serious, and medical staffs throughout the region mobilized immediately.
The names of the dead and injured were not immediately released.
At San Francisco General Hospital, 10 patients in the first wave of survivors were all in critical condition, including two children. Five of those 10 were later upgraded to serious condition.
Officials set up two tents outside the emergency room and cleared out a pediatric clinic to handle the crush of expected patients and set into motion emergency plans designed to deal with such incidents.
"What you are observing here today is something that we practice for," said Dr. Chris Barton, head of the hospital's emergency room.
He compared it to the response by first-responders after the Boston Marathon bombing, and said that although some patients seemed stunned, they were handling the situation.
"Overall, I think it's amazing how well most of the patients have come through it," Barton said.
Injuries being treated included burns, abrasions, fractures and spinal problems.
The cause of the crash is not yet known, but the immediate scene following it was remarkable.
Passengers who were not seriously hurt simply walked from the wreckage to the airport gate, while others turned to take photos or souvenir videos and post them to Twitter and other social media.
"I just crash landed at SFO," passenger David Eun tweeted. "Tail ripped off. Most everyone seems fine. I'm ok. Surreal."
Officials said 123 of those on board were able to be taken directly to the terminal, where they were sequestered from media and questioned by authorities about what happened.
Family members and friends at the airport to greet the plane were later allowed to pass through security and join their loved ones.
About 50 family members and friends of passengers on the flight were being housed in the Berman Reflection Room in the international terminal.
One teenage boy emerged briefly and said he had been on the flight and that the plane jumped up and down on landing and then flipped. He was whisked back into the room by a family member before he could give more details.
June Park, a 39-year-old Palo Alto man, was waiting outside the room late Saturday hoping for news of a friend who was on the plane.
The friend, Yong-Won Lee of San Jose, had called his parents after the crash to say he was all right, but Park had yet to find him.
Initial reports from the scene described the aircraft as a cargo plane, but the sight of people sliding to safety soon made it apparent that the accident involved a massive passenger jet.
Sasha Wilson of San Mateo was on the way to SFO to meet a relative flying in on a KLM jet from Amsterdam when the wreckage suddenly became visible.
"You can see it from the freeway," Wilson said.
The crash brought the deputy consul general for the South Korean Embassy to the airport.
"We feel very shocked," said Hong Sung Wok, who added that he was grateful that so many had survived.
Asiana said in a statement that the passengers included 61 Americans, 77 Koreans, 141 Chinese and one Japanese.
The passengers included several Chinese students from Shanghai and Jiangsu returning to college in San Francisco, according to the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco.
One was in a hospital waiting room in San Francisco while her grandmother, who also was on the plane, was being treated for more serious injuries.
While the victims were being tended to, the temporary closure of Northern California's largest airport resulted in a massive headache for thousands of people whose flights were canceled or delayed.
By 3:30 p.m., SFO officials were able to reopen two of the airport's four runways, but passengers trying to make new travel arrangements were left facing hours-long waits in ticket lines.
Nearly six hours after the plane crash, hundreds remained in line at Terminal 3, waiting for a chance to rebook their flights.
Kathi Dedini, 54, drove from Stockton to fetch her cousin, 15-year-old Makayla Dickey, whose flight to Seoul was canceled.
Dickey said mechanical problems originally delayed the flight, which was scheduled to take off at 10:45 a.m. When her United flight was ready for take off, the Asiana plane crashed.
"We were sitting on the tarmac for an hour," Dickey said. "They delayed the fight, then at 3 p.m., they canceled it."
"I'm taking her home," Dedini said. "I'm not going to stay in line for six hours."
Amid the clamor, Mario Magana, 55, sat calmly in a corner with his family and a cart of five suitcases. The Portland resident was trying to get back home, after vacationing in Guadalajara, Mexico.
"I'm not getting in line. It's a waste of time," he said.
Call The Bee's Sam Stanton, (916) 321-1091. Follow him on Twitter @stantonsam. Charles Piller, Richard Chang and Bee correspondent Herbert Sample reported from San Francisco. Sam Stanton reported from Sacramento and Bee staff writer Stephen Magagnini contributed.