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.
Its roof was charred and, in spots, gone. The back of the plane had been lopped off entirely.
Flames and smoke burst out of its windows.
"Honestly, I was waiting for the plane to ... start flipping upside down, in which case I think a lot of people would have not made it," Levy said.
"If we flipped, none of us would be here to talk about it."
Xu and his wife were among the fortunate.
"We quickly slung on luggage and grabbed our child and walked toward the back," Xu said on Weibo. "Saw the kitchen at back mostly disappeared. A huge hole -- very round. We quickly rushed out. Only after coming out did we see three of us had slight bruises."
The big question
Exactly what caused the crash could take up to two years to determine, said Choi Jeong-ho, head of South Korea's Aviation Policy Bureau.
South Korean investigators will work alongside officials from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.
The flight recorders from the plane have been recovered and are on the way to Washington, the NTSB said Sunday.
The airline purchased the plane, a Boeing 777-200, in March 2006. Asiana CEO and President Yoon Young-doo said there was no engine failure, to his knowledge.
"The company will conduct an accurate analysis on the cause of this accident and take strong countermeasures for safe operation in the future with the lesson learned from this accident," Yoon said.
Many of those who survived the crash chalked it to divine intervention.
"I think it's miraculous that we have survived because things could have been much worse," said passenger Vedpal Singh.