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Officials, passengers describe chaos after SFO plane crash

July 06, 2013|By Laura J. Nelson

This post has been updated, as noted below.

SAN FRANCISCO -- When the Asiana Airlines flight crashed at San Francisco International Airport, passengers fled in all directions from the burning plane.

"You have to imagine the chaos of the scene," said San Francisco Police Dept. Acting Capt. Dominic Yin.

Some passengers were found wandering, dazed, near the wreckage. Others made a beeline for the international terminal, where they waited for as long as five hours to be reunited with panicked friends and family.

DISCUSSION: Latest developments on Asiana jet crash

The process was made more difficult, and slower, by a series of security screenings, police said. Officials spent hours interviewing passengers inside the international departure gates.

To get into the boarding area to meet up with them, loved ones were interviewed, searched and vetted by security officials. The vetting included checking that family names matched up and that the passengers knew the people trying to get through the security area.

One by one, relatives walked through the glass doors that separate the terminal from the gates, hoping the children or spouses they had not heard from would be waiting inside.

AUDIO: "They need attention. They are alive."

"My wife, my wife," said passenger Veddpal Singh, as he walked down a hallway toward the gates. "Where is my wife?"

Singh had been separated from his wife and his son during the chaos after the flight, he said.

The plane crash broke Singh's collarbone. He had just returned from the hospital and his arm was in a sling.

At one point, a United Airlines representative parted the media representatives outside the gates to clear a path for a Red Cross team. One team member carried three plush white teddy bears, the tags still attached. 

[For the record, July 8: An earlier version of this post said the process of reuniting passengers with friends and families was complicated by screenings conducted in the international terminal by the Transportation Security Administration. In fact, officials later said, TSA conducted standard security checks in an expedited line, but the additional screenings were conducted by United Airlines workers and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents.]


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