Eyewitness account: The Asiana Airlines crash

'They just said every flight today is cancelled. I knew something was off.'

BLACK SMOKE.  A cloud of black smoke rises from the site of the Asiana Airlines crash. Panji Brotoisworo sees it at the San Francisco International Airport.

MANILA, Philippines – He was supposed to be here by now. But Panji Brotoisworo, a 22-year-old college student, who was looking forward to coming to Manila — the only place he says he ever considered home — is late. 

This Indonesian attends California State University, East Bay in the San Francisco Bay Area, but he grew up in Pasig City. His father is retired from the Asian Development Bank.

He was at the San Francisco International Airport when Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 flight 214 crash landed on the runway on Saturday, July 6 (July 7 Manila time) killing 2 people and injuring 182 others

“I was more curious than anything,” Brotoisworo said. It would be rare to catch him overly emotional, panicked or shaken. His friends know him as the calm one, and this time wasn’t any different. “I’ve ridden enough planes in my life to ever be scared.”

Airport authorities didn’t announce the crash over the loud speakers. “They just said every flight today is cancelled,” Brotoisworo told Rappler. “I knew something was off.”

He arrived a little before 11 am for his United Airlines flight whose final destination was Manila. It was scheduled to depart at 1:20 pm. 

Chaos

“I saw emergency vehicles on the tarmac which I thought was strange, I saw a bunch of police running around the terminal and didn’t see any aircraft,” Brotoisworo said.  

He described the scene where stranded passengers returned to retrieve their bags as “chaotic.”  

“It was just a sea of bags,” he said.

Airport officials announced that all flights were grounded that day and all runways were closed for at least several hours.

“I was more curious than anything,” he said. The thought that it was a terrorist attack crossed his mind, but, he said, “I quickly ruled that out since there were so many security and emergency personnel who were present, but there was no evacuation.”

Neither the airlines nor the SFO explained to passengers what was causing the delays. “The TV monitors were insisting that it was weather and Singapore Airlines said it was an ‘ASEAN issue’ that caused their delay.”  

It was not until Brotoisworo got on the AirTrain shuttle on the way back to the baggage carousel that he saw the wreckage. 

“I could see a cloud of smoke from a far distance,” he said. And it was not until he was able to open his laptop to read the news online that he found out what had actually happened.

Terror

Sharon Dahlen, a graphic artist from Daly City, California, was driving on Highway 101 which runs parallel to the airport, when the crash happened. “I thought it was a terrorist attack,” Dahlen said. 

“Sabi ng anak ko, ‘Look, there’s a big fire, mom.’  Ang itim-itim talaga,” Dahlen told Rappler.

(My son told me, “Look, there’s a big fire, mom.” It was so dark.)

“Nagdadaanan na mga ambulance at police sa tabi ko. I stopped 3 times,” she added.

(The ambulance and police were already passing by me. I stopped 3 times.)

Dahlen is in her last trimester of pregnancy so she was trying not to get stressed and was relieved it wasn’t an attack. But Dahlen said she is sad for the two passengers who lost their lives. “It could have been much worse,” she said.

The Bay Area is home to the largest Filipino-American community in the continental United States. Daly City, which is only less than 10 miles away from the airport, has the highest concentration of Filipinos than any other US city or municipality. Passengers can travel directly between San Francisco and Manila via daily flights of Philippine Airlines.

Luckily, Brotoisworo was able to rebook his flight with United Airlines for the next day without paying any extra charges. Not everyone was as lucky. 

“Your rebook time and date was on a first-come first-serve basis,” he said.  

Despite not having any Filipino blood and living in the US since he started college, he still considers Manila home and chooses to return every summer. His flight took off without delay the day following the accident, and will be back soon enough. – Rappler.com 

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