Belfast Telegraph

Home News World

Jet crash victim was run over twice

A teenage girl who survived the crash of a passenger jet in San Francisco died after she was run over by two rescue vehicles in the chaotic aftermath, according to federal investigators.

Authorities in California revealed 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 documents released at a National Transportation Safety Board hearing in Washington reveal the motionless girl was struck twice - once by a fire rig spraying foam and again 11 minutes later by a second truck that was being turned around to fetch more water.

Two other teenage girls from China died when Asiana Airlines plane came down.

The pilot of the jet worried privately before take-off about handling the Boeing 777, especially because runway construction meant he would have to land without any help from a common type of guidance system, it emerged.

Neither the trainee nor an instructor pilot in the cockpit said anything when the first officer raised concerns four times about the plane's rapid descent.

After the accident, which killed three people and injured more than 200 on July 6 last year, Lee Kang Kuk told National Transportation Safety Board investigators that he had been concerned he might "fail his flight and would be embarrassed".

Mr Lee's back story emerged in documents released at an NTSB hearing called to answer lingering questions about the crash of Asiana Flight 214.

Though Mr Lee was an experienced pilot with the Korea-based airline, he was a trainee in the 777, with less than 45 hours in the jet. He had not piloted an airliner into San Francisco's notoriously tricky airport since 2004, according to NTSB investigator Bill English.

So far, the investigation has not found any mechanical problems with the 777 prior to impact, although testing is ongoing, Mr English said.

That focused attention on Mr Lee, who did not speak at the hearing but whose actions - and failure to act - were a major part of the day-long meeting.

The NTSB's chairman, Deborah Hersman, stressed during a news conference that the agency has not yet concluded what caused the crash. But she acknowledged that the agency was examining signs of confusion about the 777's elaborate computer systems and an apparent lack of communication in the cockpit.

Documents cataloged a series of problems that, taken together, could have been factors in the crash.

The 46-year-old pilot told investigators he was "very concerned" about attempting a visual approach without instrument landing aids, which were turned off because of runway construction. A visual approach involves lining the jet up for landing by looking through the windscreen and using numerous other cues, rather than relying on a radio-based system called a glide-slope indicator that guides aircraft to the runway.

Mr Lee said the fact that he would be doing a visual approach in a jet as big as a 777 particularly troubled him.

But he did not speak up because others had been safely landing at San Francisco under the same conditions. As a result, he told investigators, "he could not say he could not do the visual approach".

Another Asiana pilot who recently flew with Mr Lee told investigators he was not sure if the trainee captain was making normal progress and that he did not perform well during a trip two days before the accident. That captain described Mr Lee as "not well organised or prepared", according to the investigative report.

"This pilot should never have taken off," said lawyer Ilyas Akbari, whose firm represents 14 of the passengers. "The fact that the pilot was stressed and nervous is a testament to the inadequate training he received, and those responsible for his training and for certifying his competency bear some of the culpability."

The report on the teeanger killed by emergency vehicles said: "Shortly thereafter, the victim (no longer covered due to the displacement of foam by the vehicle tyres) was pointed out to the fire attack chief. 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 foetal 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, Mr 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, okay, okay. We've got to get a line inside."

In her interview, Lieutenant Christine Emmons said she saw the small body covered with dirt, made a "three-second" visual assessment and thought, "that's our first casualty". Even though she considered the downed person to be already dead, Lt 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 "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".

Testifying at the hearing, assistant deputy chief Dale Carnes, who leads the San Francisco Fire Department's airport division, expressed regret for "the additional insult to the deceased".

"This is not a matter of us being careless or callous. It was the fact we were dealing with a very complex environment."


From Belfast Telegraph