‘I was certain we were dead’

Bonnie Learning
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Pasadena woman, boyfriend survive deadly plane crash in San Francisco

The end of a dual holiday/educational trip turned into a nightmare for a young woman from Newfoundland Saturday.

Mandy McLean, 26, of Pasadena, and her 27-year old boyfriend, Ryan Boesch, of Hastings, Neb., were two of the 305 survivors of Asiana Airlines Flight 214, which crash landed at San Francisco Airport at approximately 11 a.m. Two 16-year-old Chinese students were killed in the crash.

McLean is a graduate student at Stanford University in Stanford, Ca. She and her boyfriend were on their way home from vacationing in China and Thailand, where McLean was also doing some research related to her studies in Environmental Earth System Sciences.

McLean said they boarded the flight at 4:30 p.m. local time in Seoul, South Korea, on July 5th.

After an uneventful, routine flight, McLean said, she fell asleep for the last bit of the 11-hour journey to San Francisco. By this time, it was the morning of July 6.

“I woke up when I heard a crash, which I believe was the tail end of the plane hitting the seawall,” recalled McLean.

“The plane was shaking. I grabbed Ryan. All the oxygen masks were down. Things were being thrown around the plane.

“I was certain we were dead.”

McLean said she and Boesch were sitting near the front of the plane when the crash occurred.

“Ryan was awake when it happened,” she said. “He told me after that he felt like something was wrong. But there was no warning, no indication. He was following the flight path on a little video monitor on the seat in front of him. When he saw the plane go down, he thought it was just a hard landing. But then the real crash (the front of the plane) came down.”

McLean said the events in the minutes and hours immediately following the crash are a blur.

“It didn’t feel real,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or what was happening.”

She said once the plane came to a complete stop on the runway, flames and smoke started to fill the cabin.

“Looking at the plane from the tarmac, we could see the entire inside of the plane was on fire and huge plumes of black smoke were everywhere.”

Afterward, she said, there was a small explosion and the entire top of the plane “melted off.”

However, considering the circumstances, she said, everyone got off the plane rather efficiently once the emergency exits and chutes were deployed.

“It was chaotic on the tarmac — people were everywhere. All the emergency personnel were on the scene, talking to everyone as they came across them, to assess those who were injured, from the minor injuries to the most serious. They handed everyone a card to put around their neck which showed the level of injuries they had.”

McLean said she and her boyfriend were given green cards, which indicated their minor injuries — McLean with a cut on the top of her head, which she acquired after her head slammed into the seat in front of her, requiring a couple of staples. Boesch sprained his foot. They were both treated at a hospital in Stanford. The most critical cases were sent to a major trauma centre in San Francisco. McLean noted 30 ambulances made the trip to that  hospital.

After getting their cards, McLean said those who weren’t in serious condition were brought to the airport terminal, where they went through customs and on to a waiting area to await more instructions.

“It took a long time to sort through all the people,” said McLean. “We were at the airport for a long time. We never left there till about 4 or 5 p.m.”

As soon as McLean was on the tarmac after the initial crash, she called her mother right away.

“I knew this would be on the news immediately,” recalled McLean. “I called her to let her know that first, I was OK, and second, that I had just been in a plane crash.”

McLean said her mother and older sister were travelling from her mom’s home in Pasadena, on their way to Corner Brook, when she reached her mother by cellphone.

“They turned around right away (to go home to Pasadena). By the time they got there, my father had already seen a news report on TV, and I called shortly after to let him know I was OK.”

With her family notified and injuries taken care of, McLean and Boesch had a friend pick them up in San Francisco and take them home to Stanford.

“We were exhausted,” she said. “We had barely slept, barely eaten. We got some food and attempted to get some rest when we got home.”

As for her experience, McLean said it still hasn’t sunk in.

“It’s hard to believe. … I keep thinking back to the moment when the plane started shaking. I felt for sure we were going to die.”

As for whether or not she will ever fly again, McLean said she really doesn’t have a choice, as her family is in Canada and she travels extensively for both school and pleasure.

“Ryan and I had a trip already booked (prior to the crash) for August, to attend his cousin’s wedding in Nebraska,” she noted.

“So, we’ll see how that goes.”

The investigation into the cause of the crash is ongoing.

The Labradorian

Organizations: Asiana Airlines Flight 214, San Francisco Airport, Stanford University Environmental Earth System Sciences.McLean

Geographic location: Pasadena, San Francisco, Stanford Hastings, Neb. China Thailand Seoul South Korea Corner Brook Canada Nebraska

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Recent comments

  • DON
    July 09, 2013 - 08:24

    They were so lucky. If plane had flipped over -which it nearly did- there would have been many deaths .Also if pilots had increased speed seconds earlier they would have cleared sea wall and all would be ok more likely.