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(CNN) - It had been an uneventful 10-plus hour flight from Seoul, approaching San Francisco's airport on a clear summer day. Then, in a few horrifying seconds, that calm was shattered.
A fireball erupted after the Boeing 777 airliner hit the runway hard around 11:30 a.m., rocked back and forth, spun around, sheered off the plane's tail. Scores of passengers and crew climbed out -- some jumping, others sliding down evacuation chutes as flames and smoke billowed from the aircraft's windows.
Two people were found dead outside the plane, according to San Francisco fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White. "My understanding is that they were found on the runway," she said.
Both were Chinese passport holders, the South Korean transport ministry said.
Somehow, 305 others survived.
Said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee: "This could have been much worse."
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That's an understandable sentiment for anyone who heard passenger and eyewitness accounts, or saw the distressing, distorted images showing what remained of Asiana Airlines Flight 214. Some photos painted an almost otherworldly scene -- like one posted online by David Eun of passengers walking from the burning plane. Some dragged their carry-on bags. One man held his hands steady to snap a picture.
"I just crash landed at SFO," Eun wrote. "Tail ripped off. Most everyone seems fine. I'm ok. Surreal..."
Watching from an eighth-floor balcony of a nearby hotel, CNN iReporter Timothy Clark recalled hearing a bang, seeing a "dust cloud," then seeing "people running from the plane, then flames."