Fil-American survivors recount horrific experience in Asiana crash

By Henni Espinosa, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

July 10, 2013

Palo Alto, Calif. – Filipino couple Ruben and Belen Vallero took video images of their horrifying experience following the crash of the Asiana Flight 214 at the San Francisco International Airport on Saturday. The retired couple from New Castle, California just came from a vacation in Palawan and Caramoan Islands in the Philippines.  They were seated in front part of the plane, on row 16.

Ruben said he noticed that plane was tilted up and its engine was on full throttle, just before touchdown.  He thought they were to abort and try landing again.

“But in a second or two, we heard a big explosion at the back.  That’s when we realized we were in trouble.  All you could hear were people crying and screaming,” he said.

Still safely tucked in their seats, Ruben then told his wife to hunch over to protect herself from falling objects.  Some parts of the roof fell on some passengers.  The Valleros said two of their bags, which they placed in the compartments above them, dropped on them.

“I didn’t think we were getting out of there alive,” shared Belen.

Then smoke started to come out.  As it thickened, people started to panic.  Hand in hand, with their bags, Ruben and Belen rushed to exit the plane.

“I hang on to him.  Then we got out of the plane through the inflatable slides,” said Belen.

The crash left Ruben with two cracked ribs and a lacerated liver, while Belen has bruises all over her back and also suffers from liver injuries.

Officials from the Philippine Consulate visited the couple before they were discharged from Stanford Medical Center yesterday.

“The relatives back home might be worried about their condition so we just wanted to make sure they get the correct information,” related Deputy Consul General Jaimon Ascalon.

Ascalon said that yesterday, they also went to Crown Plaza Hotel in Burlingame to know the condition of other Filipino Asiana passengers, Maricel Anino-Knaus and her two young sons.  All three suffered minor injuries.

Maricel, who lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband Carl and children, vacationed in Cebu for a month.

The media were not allowed within the vicinity of Crown Plaza Hotel but Ascalon confirmed with an Asiana staff that the Knaus family left for Colorado yesterday.

Maricel’s sister-in-law from Cebu, Maria Lourdes Anino said they had to travel by car because the children were too traumatized, and scared to fly.

But Ruben and Belen said they don’t want to live in fear.  They visit the Philippines every two years and said they would not hesitate to fly again, even if it means flying Asiana.

“Given time, we’ll be okay,” Ruben said.

“I’ll be okay, as long as I’m with him,” added Belen.

The couple said Asiana has reached out to them and assured them that all their medical expenses will be covered by the airline.

For now they said they are not taking legal action against Asiana.  They just want to know the real reason behind the crash that has devastated so many lives.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has yet to release anything conclusive about the cause of the crash.  But NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman raised these potential areas of focus: Was there a mistake made in setting the automatic speed control?  Did it malfunction?  Were the pilots not fully aware of what the plane was doing?

Investigators are still trying to figure out why the Boeing 777 jet landed too slow and too slow.

Of the 307 passengers on board, two were killed and about 180 were injured.

You may contact Henni Espinosa at henni_espinosa@abs-cbn.com for more information.

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