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SF Plane Crash: Social Media Is Key First Responder

Asiana Airlines SF - H - 2013
Getty Images
The Asiana Airlines flight that crash-landed at SFO airport

Status updates by Samsung exec David Eun, a passenger on the Asiana Airlines flight, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg are widely cited after the incident.

In the aftermath of the Asiana Airlines flight that crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday at 11:36 a.m., the drama unfolded on social media as witnesses relayed the initial reactions that were then amplified by cable news.

Passenger David Eun, a Samsung exec who was formerly president of AOL Media and Studios, posted his first tweets at 12:13 p.m., within minutes of the crash-landing and fire. According to the Associated Press, at least two people have died and 182 were taken to area hospitals.

Eun, a Harvard Law graduate who also has worked at NBC, calmly posted short but clear bulletins on the crash and the condition of the passengers. (His first cool-under-pressure tweet, which even included the airport's Twitter handle (@flySFO), was retweeted nearly 30,000 times. His Twitter followers grew from 2,000 to nearly 19,000 in hours.

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Prospective Asiana passenger Sheryl Sandberg’s postings on Facebook also were widely quoted in traditional media. “Taking a minute to be thankful and explain what happened,” wrote the Facebook COO. “My family, colleagues Debbie Frost, Charlton Gholson and Kelly Hoffman and I were originally going to take the Asiana flight that just crash-landed. We switched to United so we could use miles for my family's tickets. Our flight was scheduled to come in at the same time, but we were early and landed about 20 minutes before the crash. Our friend David Eun was on the Asiana flight and he is fine.”

Meanwhile, a young woman (@EuniceBirdRah) whose father was on board asked her followers to pray for his safety. "He is on the 777," she wrote as she headed to the airport. Awhile later she sent out another tweet -- tagged for CNN -- with a photo of the burning plane that her father (who had escaped unhurt) had sent to her via text message.

She followed up a few minutes later: "About to go on CNN.. My heart is aching for the passenger, crew, family." Then finally: "God is real."

The story’s development was the latest chapter in what has become an emerging story for the traditional news media, which has found itself ever more reliant on social media bulletins and photos for its most immediate and, often, eye-witness coverage of significant breaking news events. 

Saturday, the lesson implicit in that story was dramatically reinforced when traditional news outlets with no reporters immediately on the scene were forced to rely on passengers’ Twitter postings, as well as dozens of photos posted to the Internet by passengers and those waiting inside the airport terminals.

Within a relatively short time, there were videos of the evacuation and fire up on YouTube, which were picked up by Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. By then, FNC's Claudia Cowan was on the ground reporting in SF, MSNBC aired a special report with Lester Holt and CNN's international anchor Richard Quest called in to discuss the incident. 

Eun's cool-headed series of tweets made him the dominant initial observer of the crash-landing. 

Among his Tweets:

"Fire and rescue people all over the place. They're evacuating the injured. Haven't felt this way since 9/11. Trying to help people stay calm. Deep breaths…"

"Lots of activity here. Friends, pls don't call right now. I'm fine."

@tinadaunt