WASHINGTON – A teenage girl who survived the crash of an Asiana Airlines jet in San Francisco only to be fatally struck by a fire truck on the runway was actually run over by two rescue vehicles in the accident’s chaotic aftermath, according to documents released Wednesday at a National Transportation Safety Board hearing.
Authorities in California confirmed months ago that 16-year-old Chinese student Ye Meng Yuan was alive on the runway and covered in firefighting foam when she was hit by an emergency vehicle and suffered the multiple blunt injuries that killed her.
But an NTSB accident summary and firefighter interviews made public Wednesday disclosed for the first time that the girl was struck twice as she lay motionless near the airplane’s left wing. She was hit once by a fire rig spraying foam and again less than 11 minutes later by a second truck that was being turned around to fetch more water.
“Shortly thereafter, the victim (no longer covered due to the displacement of foam by the vehicle tires) was pointed out to the fire attack chief,” the summary states. “He reported the victim over the radio and had the body covered with a blanket.”
Firefighter interviews show that crew members from the first truck had spotted Yuan on the ground, thought she was dead and took steps to avoid her body before the truck accidentally rolled over her while manoeuvring closer to the plane.
Roger Phillips, a firefighter assigned to the airport, told NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration investigators that he saw a young female lying in a fetal position who appeared to be dead with a waxy face, rolled-back eyes and wearing an expression that “looked like a grimace.”
The body looked like a mannequin used in CPR training, Phillips said, and he did not check the victim for vital signs, but reported the body to a lieutenant on the scene and to the truck’s driver. The lieutenant, concerned about the passengers still trapped in the wrecked plane, responded, “Yes, yes, OK, OK. We’ve gotta get a line inside.”
In her interview, Lt. Christine Emmons said she saw the small body covered with dirt, made a “3 second” visual assessment and thought, “that’s our first casualty.” Even though she considered the downed person to be “DOA,” Emmons told investigators she wanted to make sure the body was not run over.
The driver of the second vehicle that hit Yuan reported not seeing anyone on the ground, but the drivers of at least two other trucks said they saw a body and took care to avoid it. One driver, Firefighter Nicholas Bazarini, told investigators he thinks he “definitely would have hit the body because he did not see it at all” and only avoided striking Yuan because a chief on the ground opened his door and warned him, “There is a body on the ground, you can’t go this way.”