POSTED: 07:16 a.m. HST, Jul 19, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 12:57 p.m. HST, Jul 19, 2013
SAN MATEO, Calif. » As the wreckage of Asiana Flight 214 burned, Ye Meng Yuan was lying on the ground just 30 feet away, buried by the firefighting foam rescue workers were spraying to douse the flames.
No one knows exactly how the 16-year-old Chinese student got to that spot, but one thing is clear now: She was alive.
In the chaotic moments that followed — flames devouring the fuselage, those aboard escaping by emergency slides, flight attendants frantically cutting away seat belts to free passengers — an emergency vehicle ran over Yuan, killing her.
The new details — released today by the coroner's office — compounded the tragedy for her family and confirmed the growing suspicions that emergency workers have had since soon after the July 6 crash: One of the three who died did so by rescuers' actions.
"There's not a lot of words to describe how badly we feel, how sorry we feel," said San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White.
Yuan's family was upset after learning the details of their daughter's death and wants her body returned to China, San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said. "It was a difficult conversation," he said.
Hayes-White said she was trying to arrange a meeting with them and that the "tragic accident" would prompt a review of how the fire department uses the foam and responds to emergencies at the airport.
"There's always room for us to evaluate and improve our response," she said. "(There's) very unfortunate news today. However, many, many lives were saved and we made a valiant effort to do so on July 6."
In a statement, the Chinese Consulate called on authorities to determine responsibility for Yuan's death. Hayes-White said she did not immediately foresee any disciplinary action.
In all, 304 of the 307 people aboard the Boeing 777 survived the crash at San Francisco International Airport.
Yuan and her close friend, 16-year-old Wang Linjia, who also died, were students at Jiangshan Middle School in Zhejiang, an affluent coastal province in eastern China, Chinese state media has reported.
They were part of a group of students and teachers from the school who were heading to summer camp in Southern California.
Yuan and Linjia were seated at the back of the plane. Authorities say the jetliner came in too low and too slow, clipping its landing gear and then its tail on a rocky seawall just short of the runway.
Linjia's body was found body near the seawall at the edge of the runway.
It was unclear how Yuan got from the airplane to the spot where she died. Investigators believe she was down on the ground and not standing up during the "volatile" and "dangerous" aftermath of the plane crash, the fire chief said.
Foucrault declined to go into detail on how he determined the teenager was alive before she was struck, but said there was internal hemorrhaging that indicated her heart was still beating at the time.
Authorities confirmed last week that Yuan was hit by a vehicle racing to extinguish the flames in the plane. Police said she was on the ground and covered in the foam that rescuers had sprayed on the wreckage.
The other victim, 15-year-old Liu Yipeng, died at a hospital on July 12.
Associated Press writer Mihir Zaveri in San Francisco contributed to this report.