Asiana flight attendants hailed as heroes

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Story highlights

  • 2 flight attendants were ejected from plane and found on runway
  • Veteran flight attendant Lee Yoon Hye describes crash landing
  • Lee worked with Asiana Airlines for 18 years
  • Emergency slides deployed inside the plane and trapped crew

Veteran flight attendant Lee Yoon Hye sensed something was awry as Flight 214 neared the San Francisco International Airport runway.

As the plane was supposed to land, it rose briefly as if it was trying to lift off again.

Lee had worked 18 years with Asiana Airlines and on Saturday, her skills were tested.

The plane slammed down with "great impact," said Lee, who sat in the front.

Then boom -- the plane hit again.

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"It was even more than a hard landing," Lee, 40, said. The plane teetered left and right.

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After striking the edge of the runway at San Francisco International Airport, the Boeing 777 tumbled into the ground, igniting flames and a trail of smoke. Its tail splintered off and parts of the plane peeled off as it skidded into the earth.

When the aircraft finally stopped, she noticed that the emergency inflatable slide located at the right side of the front door had deployed inside the plane. Witnesses say the overhead bins dropped open.

Hailed as a hero who ushered passengers out of the Asiana plane, Lee was one of the 12 flight attendants on Flight 214.

Two other flight attendants were not in their seats at the rear of the aircraft when the plane finally ground to a halt, because they were ejected as the aircraft broke up. They were later found near the runway, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Lee calmly described the chaotic minutes of the Asiana plane crash. Dressed in her airline uniform, her name tag pinned to her jacket and her hair in the airline's trademark bun, she addressed Korean journalists gathered in San Francisco earlier this week.

According to the airline, flight attendants helped passengers get off the plane safely. They opened doors, deployed slides and helped passengers escape, according to JoongAng Daily, a South Korean newspaper.

As soon as the plane stopped, Lee knocked on the cockpit door to make sure the pilots were OK.

The captain opened the door.

"Are you OK, Captain?" she asked.

"Yes, I am OK," he replied.

"Should I perform the evacuation?" she asked. He told her to wait, she recalled.

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Interactive: What happened with Asiana Flight 214?

Lee made an announcement to assure increasingly agitated passengers, telling them that the plane had come to a complete stop.

Once evacuation began, Lee said she had a plan.

"I was not thinking, but acting," she said. "As soon as I heard 'emergency escape,' I conducted the evacuation."

"When there was a fire, I was just thinking to extinguish it, not thinking that it's too dangerous or 'What am I going to do?'"

Asiana flight attendants undergo three months of training including emergencies and terrorist training before their first flight.

Did passengers ignore safety messages?

Lee said she saw her colleagues jump into action to help passengers and injured crew even as a fire burned in the back of the airplane. They popped the first emergency slide that had deployed inside with an ax to free a crew member who was struggling to breathe underneath its weight. Another emergency slide in the back trapped another crew member and was deflated with a kitchen knife, Lee said according to South Korean news station YTN.

One shaken elementary school-aged boy was afraid to go down the emergency slide, but one of the flight attendants lifted him on her back and escaped with him, Lee said.

Earlier this week, Eugene Rah, who was flying his 173rd flight on Asiana Air, told CNN that he saw a 100-pound flight attendant carrying the injured on her back.

Joanne Hayes-White, the San Francisco Fire Chief also praised the flight attendant for being "so composed."

"She was not concerned for her safety, but everyone else's," she said.

Lee said she was the last to leave the plane. And she glanced back.

"The ceiling was coming down and I felt like something was dragging the plane. Behind me I couldn't see, because it looked like there was a wall."

She had no idea the tail had snapped off or how the plane would be nearly engulfed in flames moments after they had escaped.

Two teenagers, both 16, died in the crash. The rest who were on board escaped: 305 of them.