REDWOOD CITY -- The firefighter who drove over a survivor of the Asiana plane crash at San Francisco International Airport will not face criminal charges for the girl's death because it was a tragic accident, prosecutors said Friday.

Elyse Duckett, 49, could not have seen the 16-year-old Chinese student on the tarmac because the girl was covered with fire fighting foam in the wake of Flight 214's crash landing and fire, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.

As a result, neither Duckett, nor any other San Francisco firefighters, are criminally at fault for the death of Ye Mengyuan on July 6, he said. Two other girls died from injuries suffered in the crash.

San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault concluded Ye was alive and lying outside the plane near one of its wings when the rig ran over her. However, whether the girl was thrown from the plane by the impact or carried out by someone remains unclear, Wagstaffe said.

"Chaotic, not in a negative sense, is not an overstatement of what was evidently going on out there at that point," Wagstaffe said. "This clearly falls into the category of a tragic accident."

The crash remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, whose work was put on hold during the 16 days of the federal government shutdown.

In the days after the crash, investigators said the Boeing 777 came in too low and slow, clipping a sea wall that abuts runway 28 Left before crashing.


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Duckett was away from the fire station buying supplies when the plane crashed. After she returned to find everyone gone from the station, she got into a reserve engine and drove to the scene, Wagstaffe said.

A spokeswoman for the San Francisco Fire Department didn't respond to a request for comment, but Chief Joanne Hayes-White previously apologized to the girl's family.

"I want to express our condolences and apologies to the family of Ye Mengyuan," she said. "Obviously this is very difficult news for us. We are heartbroken. We're in the business of saving lives."

The Ye family's lawyer said they agree with the District Attorney's decision, though they still plan to sue the city over the girl's death.

"Obviously no one intended to hurt or kill this young girl," attorney Anthony Tarricone said. "We believe it was an accident, however, it never should have happened."

Fire department personnel knew she was on the ground, yet they didn't carry her to safety, Tarricone said. Her injuries and her position on the ground show it was unlikely she was ejected from the plane, and her family believes another firefighter carried her off the jet and then left her on the ground, he said.

"We know that several firefighters saw her and knew she was there before she was covered with foam," Tarricone said. "They inexplicably abandoned her."

Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.com.