Benjamin Levy is among the survivors of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 recovering after Saturday’s plane crash at San Francisco International Airport that killed two teenage girls and injured more than 180 other passengers.
Levy, a San Francisco resident, was sitting in Seat 30K, a window seat adjacent to the right wing of the plane when it crashed shortly after 11:30 a.m. Saturday while landing after a flight from Seoul, South Korea.
Levy said in a phone interview today that he knew something was wrong as he looked out the window while the plane descended over the Bay toward the edge of the runway.
“It was shocking, we were so low and it wasn’t even the runway yet,” he said.
Levy said he then felt the pilot go “full throttle and put the engine in full speed. That to me said we’re too low.”
He said he saw “walls of water” because of how low the plane was over the Bay, then the aircraft hit the edge of the runway, bounced back up in the air and then slid to a stop.
“It hit really hard, then started going up again … I wasn’t quite sure where we were,” he said.
He said he heard screaming when the plane crashed down, “but then people realized they’re alive, snapped out of it and started moving.”
Levy helped to open the closest emergency door to him despite pain in his torso—he thought he had broken some ribs but later found out they were only bruised—and helped other passengers get out.
The emergency slide for the door had torn away, so passengers had to step over broken parts of the wing to get down to the ground, he said.
Levy said a female firefighter then came in through the back of the plane and helped other people get out. He said he grabbed his carry-on bag and went out through another exit near the front of the plane.
“I didn’t feel urgency,” he said, noting that there was only a little smoke from the crash at that point and not the flames that engulfed the aircraft 10 to 15 minutes later.
Levy said the past day since the crash has been “very emotional.”
He was taken to San Francisco General Hospital to have his ribs checked out, was released later Saturday and was reunited with his children, ages 5 and 3.
“I’m very happy to be with them,” he said. “They don’t know anything about the crash.”
Levy’s wife and children were with him in South Korea, where he had gone for a business trip for his Redwood City-based venture capital firm BootstrapLabs.
However, while his family was initially planning on taking Flight 214, they ended up leaving five days earlier to go back to San Francisco, he said.
“I’m so thankful,” he said. “That’s what I kept on thinking.”
Levy said everyone was lucky that the plane stayed in one piece and didn’t turn upside down after the initial bounce of the crash.
“Not breaking apart really saved a lot of people,” he said.
Levy added that he has also wondered what might have happened if he sat just one seat over on the plane.
He said he was offered either the middle or window seat in his row and chose the window seat. The passenger who sat in the middle seat suffered a serious head injury in the crash, he said.
“I said window, but had it been center, I would’ve been pretty badly injured,” he said.
Levy said he is still waiting to hear whether his suitcase survived the crash intact or if it was destroyed in the fire.
“I’m not sure we’re going to get anything back,” he said.
In the meantime, he said he will spend the next few days with his family and also refocus on work.
“I want to go back to work as much as I can and get back into the routine,” he said.
A preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board appears to confirm Levy’s recollections of the crash.
NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman said at a news conference today that, based on flight data recorders, the crewmembers operating the plane made a “call for an increase in speed” only about seven seconds before the plane crashed.
Hersman said the NTSB’s investigation into the cause of the crash could take 12 to 18 months to complete.
Anyone who witnessed the crash is asked to submit their accounts, photographs or video to www.ntsb.gov.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News