Asiana Airlines crash first responders still ‘running on adrenaline’

San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White hailed her department’s response to the Asiana Flight 214 crash, saying she “couldn’t be prouder” of those who “really put their life on the line” by climbing into the fiery wreckage and pulling out passengers.

Hayes-White spoke to The Times on Monday, after some of the first responders described their actions in an emotional news conference.

“Most of us that were out on the airfield Saturday have not had a chance to catch our breath,” Hayes-White said. “We’re still sort of running on adrenaline, I’d say.”

As jet fuel streamed off the wing in the immediate aftermath of the crash-landing, firefighters ran up the aircraft’s inflated escape chutes to get to those trapped inside. A police officer without protective gear joined them, entering through the breached tail section and clearing a passage by tossing out luggage and wrecked overhead bins.


Lt. Christine Emmons said she saw fire Lt. Dave Monteverdi run up the emergency chute of the airplane: “I said if he can do it, I can do it.”

Lanky, shy and admittedly nervous, Monteverdi told reporters that when firefighters realized “our only way up was up the chute … that’s what we did.”

Hayes-White, as well as police officials, said their departments have encouraged those at the crash site to seek any and all assistance they may need to cope with the ordeal. “We have resources that will help us out and that’s an important thing,” San Francisco Police Lt. Gaetano Caltagirone told reporters.

“The first thing I did was brought my crew together and I told them, ‘Yes, we wear the bulletproof vests, carry the guns, we try to save people’s lives, we put our lives at risk. But we’re also human beings, and we need to talk,’” Caltagirone said.

“In the days and weeks that follow, this will become less of a story,” Hayes-White said. “But nevertheless, it still remains in our hearts and in our minds.”

The fire chief was at her son’s baseball game Saturday when she got the call of a hard landing at the airport. She anticipated broken bones, whiplash — not an incident of this scale.

Usually if the Fire Department is called to the airport, it’s “some mechanical issue, some landing gear issue,” Hayes-White said, and the response team is pre-staged prior to the plane’s arrival. “This time, we had no warning,” she said, noting first responders were on scene about 3 minutes after the call came out.

Hayes-White rushed to the airport, lights flashing and sirens blaring. When she arrived about 20 minutes later, she said, she was “very impressed” by the response.


Doctors at San Francisco General Hospital have described the triaging that first responders did as life-saving. Hayes-White, who toured the hospital over the weekend, called that “very, very gratifying” to hear.

“We don’t want to discount the fact that two lives were lost and there are still some critically ill patients that are fighting for their lives,” she said. “But I do believe the work, the training and the team work -- all the hard work done ahead of time -- really paid off in this instance.”


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Twitter: @katemather