While the exact cause will take months to determine, the South Korean Transport Ministry said "the tail of the Asiana flight hit the runway and the aircraft veered to the left out of the runway."
Members of South Korea's Aviation and Railway Accident Investigation Board will travel to San Francisco, that agency said. They'll be joined by a "go-to" team from the United States' National Transportation Safety Board, led by chairman Deborah Hersman. Right now, they're not sure what they'll find, though a U.S. national security official has said there are no signs of terrorism.
"We have not determined what the focus of this investigation is yet," Hersman said. "Everything is on the table at this point."
Watching from a nearby hotel, Anthony Castorani saw the plane touch the ground, then noticed a large plume of smoke.
"You heard a pop and you immediately saw a large, brief fireball that came from underneath the aircraft," he told CNN.
Kristina Stapchuck saw the dramatic scene unfold from her seat on a plane on the airport's tarmac. Soon after Flight 214 touched down, "it looked like the tires slipped a little bit and it rocked back," she told CNN.
Parts of the plane began to break off as it rocked and then began to spin.
"It all happened so suddenly," Stapchuck told CNN.
'Serious moment to give thanks'
Well after the crash, debris extended through a large swath of the airport -- right up the water's edge.
But the recovery will go well beyond that.
There were 16 crew members on the flight, in addition to 291 passengers, according to Asiana Airlines. The manifest included 141 Chinese passengers, 77 South Koreans and 61 Americans.
Carnes said that 49 of those treated at area hospitals were in "serious" condition.
Fifty-two of them are at San Francisco General Hospital, including five patients in critical condition, hospital spokeswoman Rachael Kagan said. Another 45 have been treated at a Stanford University hospital, some of them suffering from "life-threatening injuries," said Dr. David Spain, the chief of trauma.
"Many are critically injured," Lee stated Saturday evening.
The crisis Saturday had trickle-down effects as well. At one point, flights destined for San Francisco International Airport were diverted to airports in Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose and Los Angeles, said Francis Zamora of San Francisco's emergency management department.
By 3:30 p.m., though, two of the San Francisco airport's four runways were open -- though the other two were still closed over eight hours later.
The spotlight shone, too, on Asiana Airlines and the plane it received in 2006.
One of South Korea's two major airlines, the other being Korean Air, it flies to 23 other countries. Many of the 25-year-old airline's flight go out of Incheon International Airport, which is the largest airport in South Korea and considered among the busiest in the world.
What happened to the flight is one part of the story. But there are 307 more personal stories out there -- of people who were moments from wrapping up a long flight, but instead endured a nightmare.