Asiana Airlines Flight 214 was seconds away from landing when the passengers sensed something horribly amiss.
The plane was approaching San Francisco International Airport under a beautifully clear sky, but it was flying low. Dangerously low.
Benjamin Levy looked out the window from seat 30K and said he could see the water of the San Francisco Bay about 10 feet below.
Even for an airport where landing strips run close to the water, the descent seemed alarming to the San Francisco man.
"I don't see any runway, I just see water," Levy recalled.
Further back in the Boeing 777, Xu Das had the same realization.
"Looking through window, it looked on level of the (sea)wall along the runway," he posted on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter.
Then, with no warning from the cockpit, the plane slammed onto the edge of the runway. The impact severed the plane's tail and sent the rest of it spinning on its belly.
A massive fireball and clouds of smoke shot skyward. First responders rushed to the scene as horrified onlookers at the airport terminal feared the worst.
Medics found the bodies of two Chinese girls on the runway, next to the burning wreckage. The airline identified the girls as students Wang Linjia and Ye Mengyuan, both 16.
Remarkably, 305 others on the plane survived the crash Saturday morning. A total of 70 Chinese students and teachers were headed to summer camp in the United States, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
"We're lucky there hasn't been a greater loss of life," San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said.
When rescuers arrived, they found some passengers coming out of the water.
"There was a fire on the plane, so the assumption might be that they went near the water's edge, which is very shallow, to maybe douse themselves with water," Hayes-White said.
While 182 of them were taken to hospitals with injuries ranging from spinal fractures to bruises, another 123 managed to escape unharmed.
Some jumped out or slid down emergency chutes with luggage in hand.
The crash ended an otherwise mundane flight that originated in Shanghai, China. It made a connection in Seoul, South Korea, before flying 10 hours to San Francisco.
Among the 291 passengers were 141 Chinese, 77 South Koreans, 61 Americans and one Japanese, Asiana Airlines said. The airline is one of two major airlines in South Korea; the other is Korean Air.
At the helm of the plane was one of Asiana's veteran pilots who had been flying for 17 years, the airline said Sunday. Three other pilots were also on board, working in shifts.
Once the plane fell short of the runway, passengers found themselves on a roller coaster.
"I thought as the plane was landing, it looked like the pilot was trying to take off again," passenger Noni Singh said.
The airplane dipped sharply.
"And then just boom, the back end just hit and flies up in the air, " Elliott Stone, another passenger, said, "and everybody's head goes up to the ceiling."
Dark gray smoke rose from the plane as it lay on its belly, with no landing gear evident.