From the sixth floor of her San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront hotel room last Saturday, West Hollywood resident Irene Benavente witnessed the chaotic aftermath of the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash.
Benavente said she was in the midst of wrapping up a “fabulous” trip to visit her grandchildren, and was to fly back to Southern California at 7:10 p.m. that day. At approximately 11:30 a.m., she looked outside of her hotel window.
“You see the smoke. You see the flames. And you think, ‘Oh my god, who can survive this?’ …It was just horrendous — the whole thing,” Benavente said.
Although she saw people running from the scene, she hadn’t seen the news and believed that none of the passengers had survived the plane crash. According to media reports, two of the 307 people on the plane died and more than 100 people were injured.
“It was just a horrible feeling inside. …It could have been worse,” Benavente said.
Flight 214 had departed from Seoul, South Korea, and was scheduled to land at San Francisco International Airport. According to media reports, the Boeing 777 landed short of the runway, and struck a seawall. The cause of the plane crash is still under investigation.
A professional photographer, Benavente grabbed her Nikon D300 and shot photos of the wreckage through a 180-millimeter lens. She estimated that she was approximately one mile away from the crash site.
According to her website, the Amsterdam native is internationally known for her floral photographs. Benavente has won several photography awards, including the FUJI Masterpiece Award and the Photographer of the Year Award from Professional Photographers of Los Angeles County.
She lamented the fact that she had not brought her Nikon D800, but still captured images of smoke billowing out of the Asiana airplane, passengers fleeing the scene and first responders putting out the flames.
“It was horrible,” Benavente added.
Unlike many travelers in San Francisco that day, the West Hollywood resident was able to fly out of San Francisco via Virgin Airlines, albeit more than three hours late. She said the airport’s restaurants were closed, and the facilities were deserted.
“It was eerie,” Benavente added.
She said she loves flying, although witnessing the Flight 214 tragedy was sobering. Benavente said she was not too nervous flying back to Southern California the same day of the crash.
“I’m a good sport,” she said. “I don’t mind that. I saw my chances now were less of getting into an accident.”
Benavente said she was lucky to fly back last Saturday, and she was happy to be back in West Hollywood, where she’s lived for six years.
“I love it here,” she added.
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