As more details unfold around Saturday's Asiana Flight 214 crash, cabin manager Lee Yoon-hye, the last person to leave the plane as it burned on the runway, is being hailed as a hero for her cool demeanor while leading a dramatic evacuation.
During a press conference Sunday, Lee, who has 20 years with the airline, was back in her uniform recounting the moments after the plane came to a halt on the side of runway 28L: "Right before touchdown, I felt like the plane was trying to take off. I was thinking, 'What's happening?' and then I felt a bang," Lee said. "That bang felt harder than a normal landing. It was a very big shock. Afterward, there was another shock and the plane swayed to the right and to the left."
As soon as the captain ordered the evacuation, years of safety drills kicked in and Lee says her body started going through the steps without even thinking, "I was only thinking about rescuing the next passenger," she said.
During the evacuation, two of the emergency slides malfunctioned and inflated inside the cabin, pinning two crew members beneath them. Two other crew members used axes to pierce the slides and pull their colleagues to safety. Another flight attendant was seen putting a young boy on her back and carrying him to safety down one of the other emergency slides. After other passengers had escaped, a pilot even helped another injured crew member to safety.
Lee herself suffered a fractured tailbone during the hard landing, meaning she went through yesterday's press conference standing up. She kept putting out fires and and helping passengers off the plane while suffering through the pain. She didn't know she had been injured until she was treated at a local hospital. SFFD Chief Joanne Hayes-White, who talked to Lee immediately after the crash, said later that Lee "was so composed I thought she had come from the terminal."
Speaking to a crowd of mostly South Korean reporters yesterday, Lee explained: "I was only thinking that I should put it out quickly. I didn't have time to feel that this fire was going to hurt me." When she tried to make one last pass through the cabin to check for survivors, she was greeted with a cloud of smoke and was forced to make her own escape.
In other heartwarming news to come out of this tragedy, an SFPD officer reportedly grabbed a phone he spotted on the burning plane, knowing its owner would be getting a lot of worried calls from loved ones:
SFPD: Officer grabbed a phone on board the burning plane, as he knew loved ones would be calling it after the crash.— NYCAviation (@NYCAviation) July 8, 2013