Filipino airport workers describe tragic plane crash

By Henni Espinosa, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

July 8, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO – It was an image airport worker Lolita Laqui will never forget. It was the first time she witnessed a plane crash in the nine years she worked at the San Francisco International Airport.

“When the plane was about to touch down, it wasn’t straight. It was tilted up. When the tail hit the runway, a plume of white smoke was soon visible. Then the smoke turned black. We saw everything. We were so scared,” shared Laqui, a Filipino passenger service assistant.

Just before noon on Saturday, Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crashed, its tail striking a seawall at the end of the runway, sliding several hundred yards.

On board were 307 passengers.

Bai Robinson, another Filipino airport worker saw the Boeing 777 catch fire.

“All of a sudden, we saw smoke and then everybody was in commotion, going to the windows, trying to see what was going on. We were looking. Then, we saw fire,” she related.

Many Filipino airport workers that there would be kababayans on board, as Asiana Airlines also flies from the Philippines.

“We are just hoping that everyone’s okay,” said Anthony Nicdao, a baggage handler.

But the flight originated from Shanghai and many of the passengers were Chinese.

The Philippine Consulate in San Francisco issued this statement following the crash: “We are exhausting official and non-official channels to determine if there were Filipino-Americans among the 64 American passengers on board.”

Federal investigators are now looking into the cause of the crash. Malfunction or pilot error has not been ruled out. First responders said they rushed to the scene within minutes after the crash.

“Our aircraft rescue firefighting equipment went to work right away, applied foam and water to the fuselage. When we arrived on scene, the chutes had already been deployed and we observed multiple number of people coming down the chutes and walking to their safety,” said Joanne Hayes-White, San Francisco Fire Chief.

The San Mateo Coroners office is now looking into whether one of the two teenage passengers killed actually survived the crash, but was run over by a rescue vehicle.

The crash also took a toll on passengers ready to board their flights. The San Francisco International Airport closed for a few hours as a result of the crash. Thousands were left stranded.

Phonam Garcia and her three-year old son waited for hours to fly back to New Zealand. Despite the hassle, she said she feels lucky they weren’t on that Asiana plane.

“Our prayers are with the passengers on that flight,” she said.

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

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