SAN FRANCISCO -- A girl who was critically injured in the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 died Friday morning from her injuries, bringing the death toll to three, San Francisco General Hospital announced.
The girl, whose identity and injury information was withheld by hospital officials at her parents' request, had been in intensive care ever since she was taken to the hospital following the July 6 crash landing of a 777 jetliner at San Francisco International Airport.
"I am very sad that one of the victims of the plane crash expired this morning," Dr. Margaret Knudson, chief of surgery, said in a Friday afternoon news conference. "Her parents have asked that we reveal no further information at this time. We will respect their wishes while they grieve."
The Chinese consulate of San Francisco identified the girl as a Chinese citizen, and expressed condolences in a news release.
While officials declined to specify the victim's injuries, Dr. Geoffrey Manley, the hospital's chief of neurosurgery, briefly spoke to reporters during the announcement.
"She received outstanding care," Manley said. "We did everything we could to take care of this young lady."
When the child's death was announced Friday afternoon, the day's news involving the crash had already taken a dour turn after starting with a glimmer of optimism following declarations that the closed SFO runway was cleared of the plane wreckage and set to reopen late Sunday. That work went faster than anticipated and the first plane touched down just after 5 p.m. Friday.
But San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr confirmed weeklong fears that a fire truck ran over one of the two 16-year-old girls who died immediately after the crash, though whether that killed her remains to be seen.
Police said the teenage victim, identified by the San Mateo County Coroner's Office as Ye Mengyuan of China, was covered in fire-retardant foam when a fire truck rolled over her at a low speed.
She was discovered in the tracks that the truck left in the foam as emergency workers responded the crash that also injured dozens of others after the jetliner "short-landed" and hit its tail on the sea wall, shearing it from the rest of the plane and sending it spinning into the runway.
Police stressed that the coroner has not officially determined the cause of death for the teenager who was hit by the fire truck and declined to comment further. Coroner Robert Foucrault said earlier this week that it could be two to three weeks before that information is released.
The San Francisco Fire Department, which oversees firefighting and rescue operations for the airport, said it would hold off on a response to the police finding until it's clear how the victim died.
"Out of respect for the family and everyone involved, the Fire Department is awaiting the results of the coroner's report so we can provide a complete and factual statement," Lt. Mindy Talmadge, SFFD spokeswoman, said in an email.
Suspicions arose soon after the crash that one of the girls might have been struck by a rescue vehicle, especially after aerial photographs of the wreckage showed a body in the trail of one of the trucks.
During a news conference Monday, Dale Carnes, assistant deputy fire chief at SFO, said the department was quickly made aware of the possibility and that officials were cooperating with a multiagency investigation that included the NTSB and SFPD, which dispatched its hit-and-run investigation unit to the case.
During that briefing, Carnes said the following:
"At this time because we have not clearly defined and established those facts, we cannot answer your questions, anything we might offer at this point would be simply conjecture, and would also complicate the investigation and we're just not willing to do that. Once the investigation's complete, and we have met with all of the stakeholders involved in the investigation, and establish those facts, we will then be forwarding that information."
Meanwhile, the runway where the burned and broken hulk of the 777's fuselage sat since the crash reopened ahead of schedule and airport officials praised the rapid work to get the field fully operational.
"The tremendous efforts and around-the-clock work of airport staff, government agencies, airline tenants and contractors allowed us to complete all repairs and safety certifications for Runway 28L in a timely and efficient manner," airport director John L. Martin said in a news release.
Officials said all airlines can immediately resume normal operations at the field.
The National Transportation Safety Board turned over custody of Runway 28L Wednesday night. Cleanup intensified overnight Thursday night as crews removed the fuselage, or main body of the plane. There was a brief but scary moment with smoke appearing as crews removed the charred and fragmented fuselage, with the aim of having the scarred runway ready for landings by the end of the weekend.
The smoke was reported at 3:30 a.m. Friday as the fuselage was being cut into two sections, San Francisco International Airport spokesman Doug Yakel said.
"They were removing the rear section from the forward section that had the wings still attached," Yakel said. "We don't know the ultimate cause but we suspect it was the cutting into metal, which caused a lot of friction. No one ever saw a fire."
A firefighting crew was on hand during the removal and quickly tended to the smoke, Yakel said.
Later in the morning, the fuselage was cleared from the field where it had been sitting since the Saturday morning crash.
Friday morning, the front section of the plane was taken to a remote lot north of the airport. At the lot, crews could be seen using a combination of cranes, flatbed trucks and forklifts to gather the aircraft pieces. Engines and fragments of landing gear and the tail rested in a pile.
Earlier Friday, Yakel stressed the importance of getting the runway open as fast as possible, and said the airport had worked closely with the Federal Aviation Administration to expedite that agency clearing the runway for landings.
"They know how important it is for us to get that open as soon as possible," Yakel said.
To certify the runway, the FAA performed a series of flyovers Friday afternoon, analyzing navigation systems and checking the alignment of runway lights and markings.
Yakel said travelers have faced delays at a minimum of 45 minutes -- though many have reported some far longer -- and that between 75 and 100 flight cancellations a day have been made since the crash.
"Having one of four runways closed its like having a lane closed on a freeway, it's going to back up traffic," Yakel said. "Even when we're starting each morning with low clouds, when that burns off, we continue to have delays because of the runway."
Yakel previously said that even a Sunday reopening would be "an achievement for the entire team."
During its final local press briefing Thursday, the NTSB released photos of a scattered debris field of shards of airplane remnants that has since been cleaned up.
Officials said that federal authorities will transport, piece by piece, the wreckage to a secure housing area that is yet to be determined. Parts of investigatory "interest" have either already been shipped or are on their way to the agency's headquarters in Washington.
Fewer than a dozen of the victims injured in the crash still remain in the hospital, including three flight attendants who like the deceased girls were ejected from the plane on impact.
Officials at San Francisco General said they're still treating six patients: five adults and one child. Five of the patients are female, including the child. Two of the adults are in critical condition with injuries that include spinal cord and abdominal injuries, internal bleeding, road rash and fractures.
Those critical injuries are in line with the those that would have been suffered by flight attendants who survived after being ejected from the plane during the crash. But because of privacy rules it could not be confirmed who suffered which injuries.
Stanford Hospital released one patient Thursday evening, with one remaining in serious condition. One patient remains at St. Mary's Medical Center in good condition and another at St. Francis Hospital, who is stable.
On Thursday night in Los Angeles, West Valley Christian School held a vigil to honor the victims of the crash.
Mengyuan and Wang Linjia were among about 35 students who were scheduled to attend a three-week academic summer camp based at the West Hills school. The camp, which was scheduled to start last Monday, was canceled in light of the crash.
The ceremony included speeches and songs, while wreaths were laid out and students wrote condolences on large banners.
"Our general purpose is to show love and compassion for the Chinese group that came, even though they never came to us and the two that died, to show the human side of Americans as we relate to the Chinese people -- that we truly have a love and compassion for those families, the children that were in the plane crash and those that died," said West Valley Christian Church's the Rev. Glenn Kirby by telephone from a national church conference in Kentucky.
Staff writer Eric Kurhi and the Los Angeles News Group contributed to this report. Follow Robert Salonga at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.