s
s
Sections
Sections
Search
Subscribe

Chaotic, yet oddly quiet scene at SFO in hours after plane crash


SAN FRANCISCO — Family members and loved ones of passengers aboard the Asiana Airlines flight that crashed late Saturday morning at San Francisco International Airport searched desperately for information at the airport in the chaotic, oddly quiet hours following the disaster.

Japal Singh of Folsom emerged from a room set up as a comfort station at the international terminal, trying to find his brother and his family, who were traveling to visit him from Korea. He was relieved to hear that they were OK, but seemed flummoxed that he couldn't find them to take them to his home, even after meeting with airport officials.

"I'm just trying to get them, and trying to find out where they are," he said. "It's going to be a long day for all of us."

Outside the airport, traffic lanes leading into the airport were eerily quiet at midday, as signs for the international and domestic terminals flashed the words "closed." As weary passengers made arrangements to deal with canceled flights and lines began to form at booking counters, two young boys gamely bounced a tennis ball off a wall. Eventually, airport officials announced that two of four runways had reopened.

Meanwhile, airline representatives would not release a list of the passengers aboard the plane, said Patrick Abbott, 62, of Alamo in Contra Costa County. He came to the airport to pick up a family friend, Jeung Mi Hwang, who was on the Asiana flight and had been taken to the hospital as a precaution because she was pregnant. Abbott couldn't get information from airport officials about Hwang's whereabouts, but was able to reach her by cellphone, he said.

"She's six weeks' pregnant, so there's a concern, but Asiana refused to give a contact number," Abbott said. "The passengers went to nine different hospitals. The only way we found out, me and the other passengers, was by making direct contact with the passengers."

Hwang had escaped the plane with her cellphone, but nothing else, he said.

"She's lost all of her documents, all of her possessions, and we're going to have to deal with this, but it's a good thing she's not hurt," Abbott continued. "It's a traumatic experience."

Later, a group of about 20 people swiftly left the comfort station room, some with blankets draped around their shoulders, while police tried to shield them from dozens of reporters. The group was escorted through security gates and taken to an unknown part of the airport.

June Park, 39, an engineer from Palo Alto, was searching for a close friend he knew from graduate school who was aboard the plane, and was distraught when he didn't find the friend at his home.

"I kind of panicked this afternoon because I heard it first on Twitter, and then saw the news ... it was devastating," Park said. "I knew he was on the plane, because I talked to him before he got on."

Park later learned that his friend, who works at Qualcomm, was OK, but he still couldn't figure out his location.

"It's just that we don't know where he is," Park said. "Everyone's trying to figure out where they may be ... they're trying their best, and I'm trying my best."

By evening, flights at the international terminal had resumed. Late-night departures were scheduled to leave on time, but many earlier flights were delayed or canceled.

In Sonoma County, Tony Geraldi, operations manager at Airport Express, said a number of his customers took the trip to San Francisco only to learn their flights had been canceled.

The company refunded their money and allowed them to return to Sonoma County for free, he said.

All traffic to the airport was halted after the accident, but taxis and buses were allowed back in after about an hour and a half, Geraldi said.

Drivers who had been with the company for years said the quiet of the airport was eerily reminiscent of the aftermath of 9/11.

"In the 26 years I've worked for Airport Express, this I something that I've never had to deal with," Geraldi said.

There was no impact on operations or flights diverted to the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, airport manager Jon Stout said.

Two ambulances from American Medical Response in Santa Rosa traveled to the airport to assist and each transported three people with minor injuries to local hospitals, general manager Dean Anderson said.

(Staff Writer Kevin McCallum contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Cathy Bussewitz at 521-5276 or cathy.bussewitz@pressdemocrat.com and Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com.)