US & Canada

Asiana 214: Plane evacuated 90 seconds after crash

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Media captionDeborah Hersman: "Unusual not to announce an order to evacuate"

The evacuation of Asiana flight 214, which crash-landed on Saturday in San Francisco, was delayed because the pilots initially said passengers should stay put, a safety official has said.

The evacuation began 90 seconds after the Boeing 777 skidded to a stop - and only after a flight attendant spotted fire outside, the official said.

She called the failure to immediately order the evacuation "unusual".

The crash killed two passengers and injured about 180.

At a press conference on Wednesday, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Deborah Hersman said the pilots were in contact with air traffic controllers in the seconds after the plane crashed, and told flight attendants not to order passengers to evacuate.

Laser flash?

"It seems a little unusual that the crew would not announce an order to evacuate after a plane crash," Ms Hersman said.

"We don't know what the pilots were thinking."

Ms Hersman also confirmed some of the evacuation slides had inflated inside the aircraft as it bounced along the ground, injuring a flight attendant and possibly hindering passengers' escape.

It has been revealed that the trainee pilot at the controls when the plane crashed was landing a Boeing 777 at San Francisco's airport for the first time, while the instructor pilot beside him was in that role also for the first time.

The plane came in much too shallowly and under the airspeed necessary to keep it aloft, say investigators.

Ms Hersman said the pilot who landed the plane later told investigators he was blinded by a light at about 500ft (150m) - which would have been about 34 seconds before impact and the point when the Boeing began to slow down.

The possibility that the flash was caused by a laser was not being ruled out, Ms Hersman added.

'Severely burned'

The first airport rescue crews arrived about 30 seconds after the passengers began evacuating.

Image caption US investigators have interviewed the pilots and half of the flight attendants on the crashed plane

But recordings of emergency calls from surviving passengers suggest they waited longer before help arrived.

In a 911 call released late on Wednesday by the California Highway Patrol, one woman can be heard saying: "We've been on the ground, I don't know, 20 minutes, a half hour.

"There are people laying on the tarmac with critical injuries, head injuries. We're almost losing a woman here. We're trying to keep her alive."

Another caller can be heard telling the dispatcher about an injured woman: "She is severely burned. She will probably die soon if we don't get help."

Officials have said the ambulances were not able to approach the plane immediately out of concerns it would explode.

At least 30 surviving passengers remain in San Francisco hospitals, many with serious spinal injuries.

They include three flight attendants who were ejected from the rear of the aircraft when the tail ripped off on impact.

The two passengers killed were Chinese teenagers Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia.

They were in the rear of the plane, where many of the most seriously injured passengers were seated, but their bodies were found on the tarmac.

Police are investigating whether one of them survived the crash only to be run over by an emergency vehicle.

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