SAN MATEO -- In another heartbreaking turn of events since Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport two weeks ago, a coroner revealed Friday that a teenage girl jettisoned from the disintegrating aircraft initially survived but was killed after she was run over by a fire truck responding to the chaos on the runway.
Ye Mengyuan was alive when she was ejected from the plane after it crash landed at San Francisco International Airport on July 6, San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said Friday. Authorities said her body was discovered in tracks in flame-retardant foam that had been left by one of the San Francisco Fire Department's Airline Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF) rigs that responded to the crash, which killed three passengers and injured another 182 people on board.
Forcrault said the 16-year-old girl died from multiple blunt injuries consistent with being run over by a vehicle. He added that an examination of internal hemorrhaging ruled out any chance she was already dead when the truck hit her.
"She was alive when she received the injuries," Foucrault said.
San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White, appearing with Foucrault at a press conference, apologized to the Ye family for her death. She said the news is "devastating."
"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."
Hayes-White said Friday that there are no disciplinary plans for anyone who might have been involved in the accidental death.
"At this moment," she said, "I consider it a tragic accident."
The Fire Department had said that firefighters realized only after extinguishing the plane fire and helping the more than 300 survivors get to safety, that one of the victims was found in the tracks of an ARFF rig. Ye had been covered in fire-retardant foam and was discovered in the tracks the fire truck made in the foam, according to the San Francisco Police Department's hit-and-run unit assigned to the case.
Ye's body was found near the left wing, and aerial photos taken after the crash show the yellow tarp covering her resting in the width of a visible set of tire tracks.
It was the worst possible outcome imaginable ever since authorities raised the possibility a rescue vehicle from the Fire Department's airport detail hit one of the fatal victims in the aftermath of the crash of the Boeing 777 jetliner. Hayes-White said Friday that multiple vehicles may have hit her, but that which ones were involved was still being determined.
The development tempered what had been widely lauded as a heroic and astounding rescue effort spearheaded by the department.
"We commit to continue to examine our response that day. Could we have done something different faced with challenges we had in terms of passengers still on an aircraft that was engulfed in flames ... and the need to get to those flames?" Hayes-White said. "We had fuel leaking. It was a very dangerous and volatile situation."
Hayes-White said she and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee have reached out to the family to talk to them in person but have not yet met with them.
"I am profoundly saddened by the involvement of a responding emergency vehicle in the death 16-year-old Ye Mengyuan," Lee said in a statement. "On behalf of the people of San Francisco, I offer my deepest condolences and regret for her tragic death, and the deaths of her close friend, 16-year-old Wang Linjia, and 15-year-old Liu Yipeng. Our hearts are heavy, and our thoughts and prayers continue to be with their families and friends an ocean away."
He added: "The men and women of the San Francisco Fire Department dedicate themselves and put their own lives at risk to save people. Through the quick response and heroic decisions of our first responders, the lives of many of the 307 passengers and crewmembers on Asiana Airlines Flight 214 were undoubtedly saved that day. This tragic accident is especially hard for them -- and all of us -- to endure."
Ye was one of two girls found dead after the crash, along with Linjia, who authorities believe died from injuries suffered when the Chinese schoolmates were ejected from the plane after the tail hit the sea wall on Runway 28L and broke off. Both girls were seated near the rear of the aircraft.
The news Friday means that four of the five people who were thrown from the plane survived, at least briefly. Three flight attendants were also found on the runway and were hospitalized with a battery of serious injuries. A third fatality was reported July 12 when 15-year-old Liu Yipeng, who was found in the wreckage still strapped to her seat, died from her injuries at San Francisco General Hospital.
Still, even when that finding was made last week, it was still uncertain about whether her death was caused by the crash or the vehicle, a question that was given tragic clarity Friday.
Two days after the crash and one day after the revelation of what happened to Ye surfaced, the fire department said that each of the five personnel operating a rescue apparatus at the crash site passed drug and alcohol screenings in the ensuing investigation.
Following the announcement that the 16-year-old passenger was covered in fire-retardant foam, fire and airport officials said they don't typically use the costly foam while training to respond to plane crashes.
The Associated Press reported over the weekend that Linjia didn't get immediate medical attention because she wasn't spotted until 14 minutes after the crash.
Survivors, firefighters and police described a hectic, fluid, and chaotic scene after the crashed plane came to a stop. As rescue teams arrived, passengers were exiting the gaping hole in the back of the fuselage where the tail was once attached, others were sliding down emergency chutes, and others still had ventured into the waters of the San Francisco Bay, presumably to douse or soothe burns and injuries.
Jet fuel gushed from the wings as the evacuation carried on. San Francisco police officer Jim Cunningham, who heroically entered the plane without any protective equipment and ushered out survivors, recalled the urgency to get to the plane being so great that while racing to the scene, he had to slow his patrol car to ensure a trailing ambulance wouldn't crash trying to keep up.
Meanwhile, an anticipated year-long federal investigation continues into the cause of the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board has reported that the aircraft was flying too low to the runway and well short of its targeted landing speed, and that by the time they realized this and decided to try another landing, the tail hit the sea wall, which broke the plane into pieces and sent it spinning into the runway, after which a fire broke out.
Investigators are exploring a variety of factors, but the information revealed so far has suggested pilot error rather than mechanical failure, based on cockpit-voice and flight-data recorder information and the fact that the lead pilot was relatively inexperienced in operating the 777 and was making his first landing at SFO.
All three girls who died attended Jiangshan Middle School in Zhejiang, an affluent coastal province in eastern China, according to Chinese media. They were heading to a summer camp at West Valley Christian School in Los Angeles.