9:15 am | Saturday, July 13th, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO — A girl who was aboard the Asiana Airlines flight that crash-landed died Friday, the same day that authorities confirmed one of the two Chinese teenagers killed in the disaster was hit by a firetruck.
The disclosure about the girl raised the tragic possibility that she could have survived the crash only to die in its chaotic aftermath.
No one knows yet whether the two girls lived through the initial impact at the San Francisco airport. But police and fire officials confirmed Friday that Ye Meng Yuan, 16, was hit by a firetruck racing to extinguish the blazing Boeing 777.
Her close friend Wang Linjia, also 16, was among a group of passengers who did not get immediate medical help. Rescuers did not spot her until 14 minutes after the crash.
The other girl died Friday morning. San Francisco General Hospital said she had been in critical condition since arriving Saturday after the accident. Officials did not identify the girl at the request of her parents. Her age was also withheld.
Meng Yuan’s body was found covered in firefighting foam near a seawall at the edge of the runway, along with three flight attendants who were flung onto the tarmac while still buckled in their seats. Meng Yuan was not in her seat.
“The firetruck did go over the victim at least one time. Now the other question is what was the cause of death?” police spokesman Albie Esparza said. “That’s what we are trying to determine right now.”
San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said the results of his initial inquiry into the deaths would likely be released sometime next week. He would not comment on the police investigation.
Moments after the July 6 crash, while rescuers tried to help passengers near the burning fuselage, Wang Linjia and the flight attendants lay in the rubble almost 2,000 feet away. A group of survivors called 911 and tried to help them.
Members of the group — martial arts athletes and their families returning from a competition in South Korea — said that after escaping the plane, they sat with at least four victims who appeared to be seriously hurt. They believe one of them was one of the girls who died.
Cindy Stone, who was in that group, was recorded by California Highway Patrol dispatchers calling in for help: “There are no ambulances here. We’ve been on the ground 20 minutes. There are people lying on the tarmac with critical injuries, head injuries. We’re almost losing a woman here. We’re trying to keep her alive.”
San Francisco Fire Department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said Friday that when airport personnel reached the group near the seawall, Linjia was dead. She did not know when the girl had died.
The flight attendants remained hospitalized Friday.
Talmadge also confirmed that an Associated Press photograph of a body under a yellow tarp near the burned-out jet was the other victim, Meng Yuan.
The photo, taken from above, shows firefighters looking down at the tarp, and there are truck track marks leading up to it.
Police said the teenager was covered in foam that rescuers had sprayed on the burning wreckage. When the truck moved while battling the flames, rescuers discovered her body, Esparza said.
“The driver may not have seen the young lady in the blanket of foam,” said Ken Willette of the National Firefighter Protection Agency, which sets national standards for training airfield firefighters. “These could be factors contributing to this tragic event.”
He said firetrucks that responded to the Asiana crash would have started shooting foam while approaching the fuselage from 80 or 100 feet (25 or 30 meters) away. The foam was sprayed from a cannon on the top of the truck across the ground to clear a safe path for evacuees. That was supposed to create a layer of foam on the ground that is several inches (centimeters) high before the truck gets to the plane.
The victims were close friends and top students, looking forward to spending a few weeks at a Christian summer camp in California, where they planned to practice English and boosting their chances of attending a U.S. college.
Their parents were flown to San Francisco after their deaths where the Chinese consulate was caring for them.
September Mao, who attends the girls’ school in the city of Jiangshan and knew them both, said Wang was outgoing and popular, and often interviewed her classmates as a student reporter. She said Ye was a very good singer and speaker, “loved to smile, and liked to share everything and anything that is happy.”
Photos of the girls showed the pair with wide grins flashing peace sign. In one photo, they formed their arms into the shape of a heart.
The airliner collided with a rocky seawall just short the runway. Dozens of other passengers were injured, and although 182 were taken to hospitals, most suffered only minor injuries.
Nearly a week after the crash, the investigation indicates the pilots, a trainee and his instructor, failed to realize until too late that the aircraft was dangerously low and flying too slow.
Nothing disclosed so far by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators indicates any problems with the Boeing 777′s engines, computers or automated systems.
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