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Inside the plane, Mr. Singh, who was sitting in the middle of the aircraft with his family, said there was no forewarning from the pilot or any crew members before the plane touched down hard and he heard a loud sound.

“We knew something was horrible wrong,” a visibly shaken Mr. Singh said. He said the plane went silent before people tried to get out anyway they could. His 15-year-old son said luggage tumbled from the overhead bins.

Passenger Benjamin Levy said it looked to him as if the plane was flying too low and too close to the water as it approached the runway. Mr. Levy, who was sitting in an emergency exit row, said he felt the pilot try to lift the jet up before it crashed.

He said he thought the maneuver might have saved some lives.

“Everybody was screaming. I was trying to usher them out,” he recalled of the first seconds after the landing. “I said, ‘Stay calm; stop screaming; help each other out; don’t push.’”

Passenger Wen Zhang said she could feel the plane’s tail hit the ground. Baggage was falling around her, people were screaming, and the aisle window broke.

Ms. Zhang picked up her 4-year-old son, who had hit the seat in front of him and broken his leg. Unhurt, she carried him through the hole where the bathroom was and went out onto the tarmac.

Shi Da, a product manager at an Internet company in Hangzhou, China, said he was sitting with his wife and teenage son near the back of the plane. When he felt the plane hit the ground, he said, oxygen masks dropped down.

And when he stood up in the cabin, he could see the tail where the galley was torn away, leaving a gaping hole through which he could see the runway. After escaping, they watched the plane catch fire, and firefighters hosed it down. They suffered some cuts and have neck and back pain.

“I just feel lucky,” he said. “We are so lucky we sit beside the tail and we can leave the plane in the first place.”

By the time the flames were out, much of the top of the fuselage had burned away. The tail section was gone, with pieces of it scattered across the beginning of the runway. One engine appeared to have broken away.

The flight originated in Shanghai and stopped over in Seoul before making the nearly 11-hour trip to San Francisco, airport officials said. The airline said 16 crew members and 291 passengers were on board. Thirty of the passengers were children.

San Francisco Fire Department Chief Joanne Hayes-White said 19 people remain hospitalized, six of them in critical condition.

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