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SAN FRANCISCO – Moments before the crash of Asiana Flight 214, passenger Benjamin Levy said he looked out the window and saw the piers in San Francisco Bay just off the airport runway – and they were way too close to the plane. “We were too low, too soon,” he said.

“He was going down pretty fast, and I think he just realized he was down too fast,” Levy said of the pilot. The pilot then pushed on the engines “just as we were about to hit the water.”

“I think the pilot must have realized because the pilot tried to pull the plane back up,” Levy told the Los Angeles Times. “We hit pretty hard. And I thought the wheels were gone for sure.”

He felt the plane crash – and heard the screams of passengers – but the aircraft stayed on its belly as it landed hard on a grassy area next to the runway.

Levy, 39, lives in San Francisco and was in Asia on business. He said he was sitting in seat 30K, which he said was “right behind the wing on the right-hand side.” As the plane crashed, he said everything turned into slow motion. “First of all, you don’t believe it’s happening,” Levy said. “When the plane stopped, I realized I was going to be OK.”

Many passengers were able to get out of the plane before it was consumed by flames.

Multiple sources told the Times there was no reported trouble or declared emergency on the plane before it crashed.

Mike Barr, a former military pilot and accident investigator who teaches aviation safety at the University of Southern California, said it appeared the plane approached the runway too low and something may have caught the runway lip – the seawall at the end of the runway.

San Francisco is one of several airports around the country that border bodies of water that have walls at the end of their runways to prevent planes that overrun a runway from ending up in the water.

Since the plane was about to land, its landing gear would have already been down, Barr said. It’s possible the landing gear or the tail of the plane hit the seawall, he said. If that happened, it would effectively slam the plane into the runway, he said. Noting that some witnesses reported hearing the plane’s engines rev up just before the crash, Barr said that would be consistent with a pilot who realized at the last minute that the plane was too low and was increasing power to the engines to try to increase altitude. Barr said he could think of no reason why a plane would come in to land that low.

David Eun, an executive at Samsung, was a passenger and tweeted several pictures from the flight. “I just crash landed at SFO. Tail ripped off. Most everyone seems fine. I’m OK. Surreal.” Eun tweeted, followed by: “Fire and rescue people all over the place. They’re evacuating the injured. Haven’t felt this way since 9/11.”

In an interesting aside, Facebook CEO and author Sheryl Sandberg posted a note on her Facebook page saying she and three of her colleagues were originally slated to be on the flight but had a last-minute change of plans.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.