Teenagers Wang Linjia and Ye Mengyuan probably were giddy as 16-year-old classmates can be.
The end of the long 11-hour overseas flight from Shanghai was near its end Saturday as Asiana flight 214 descended into San Francisco. They were to start a three-week camp in Southern California on Tuesday.
The U.S. is a popular destination this time of year for Chinese teens. More than 60,000 attend U.S. camps each summer as a way to improve their English and get a head start in attending college here.
But the two girls died when their plane came in low and the tail hit the ground near the edge of the bay, breaking up the Boeing 777 and engulfing it in flames. The plan was carrying 291 passengers and 16 crew members when it crashed and 180 were injured.
At least 70 Chinese students and teachers were on the plane heading to summer camps, according to authorities in China. Teacher Ye Lianjun told Chinese television that there were 34 people traveling in the Jiangshan Middle School group -- five teachers and 29 students including Linjia and Mengyuan.
A person at the Bay Area Chinese publication of the Epoch Times said Sunday that the summer programs are "popular, very so" with Chinese students and parents.
And in a 2011 Los Angeles interview about the surge in Chinese kids jetting across the Pacific Ocean to summer camps in America, David Lin, president of the Arcadia-based Chinese Cultural Association, said that "summer camp abroad is very fashionable in China now. China is developing fast. As competition intensifies, no parent wants their child to be left behind.
"To rise above the rest, they believe, children must be familiar with the outside world and speak a foreign language," Lin said. "So a trip to the world's most powerful country is a very attractive option."
Others on the flight were vacationers headed to Yellowstone, Disneyland, the Golden Gate Bridge and other American attractions such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City. Some were on business trips. Others to see relatives.
But the biggest single group consisted of the students, especially those from Jiangshan -- a fairly prosperous city in one of China's most developed provinces, where the approximate cost of the U.S. trip of $4,700 is increasingly within reach for many families.
Anxious parents gathered Sunday around the gate outside the Jiangshan school, student Jiang Wenbin, 19, told Chinese television.
"They are worried, and nervous, waiting for the news. They only have one kid in the family, so I understand them," Jiang said.
The crash and deaths shocked leaders of the West Valley Christian Church and School where the girls were bound.
We're "like stunned and kind of numb," said Rev. Glenn Kirby between morning services on Sunday. "We didn't know them, hadn't met them yet, but we can imagine what it's like to lose teenagers and our hearts go out to the families."
Mercury News wire services contributed to this report. Contact Gary Richards at 408-920-5335.