Two Chinese Students Die in SFO Plane Crash (Updated)

Saturday’s crash of a Boeing 777 at San Francisco International Airport had two fatalities, both of whom were high school students from Jiangshan, Zhejiang Province. The girls were planning to study English in a camp in California. The Asiana Airlines flight, which originated in Shanghai and stopped in Seoul, had 141 Chinese passengers aboard. From AP:

Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia, students at Jiangshan Middle School in eastern China, died in the crash, state broadcaster China Central Television said, citing a fax from the airline to the Jiangshan city government.

The South Korean airline said in a statement that Ye and Wang were both 16.

A group of 29 students and five teachers had set off from the highly competitive school in Zhejiang, an affluent coastal province. A woman from Zhejiang’s education department had said earlier that they had lost contact with two students. The woman gave only her surname, Tang.[Source]

The cause of the crash has not yet been determined. From the South China Morning Post:

There was no immediate indication of the cause of the accident, and federal officials were travelling from Washington to investigate. One survivor said the pilot seemed to be trying to gain altitude just before crash.

Asiana Airlines said the flight, which had originated in Shanghai, had carried 291 passengers and 16 crew members. Most were Chinese, Korean and U.S. nationals.

Asiana Airlines said the passengers included 141 Chinese, 77 South Koreans, 61 US citizens and one Japanese citizen. It did not give the nationality of the others.

Among the Chinese nationals, there were 70 students and teachers on the plane, Xinhua news agency reported. Thirty of the students are from Shanxi province, others were from east China’s Zhejiang province, local authorities confirmed. [Source]

Summer study abroad programs have become more popular for Chinese high schoolers. Social media savvy passengers were able to immediately post reports and photographs from the plane after the crash. From USA Today:

Chinese students flying abroad have become an increasingly common global phenomenon in recent years as the nation’s dramatic economic growth and opening up creates more families that have the means to send children overseas to study — and at ever younger ages.

One of the first indications those high school students had survived the crash came from Chinese social media as a fellow survivor posted updates from the scene. Xu Da, an executive with the online giant Taobao, based in its home city of Hangzhou, wrote a series of posts, sent from his iPhone, on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo micro-blogging service.

“It took half an hour from landing to evacuation,” he wrote. “The passengers and rescuers were both very calm. No one was shouting, everything was orderly, and I felt we had already been evacuated for a while when the fire grew larger, so I was extremely surprised to hear that two were dead,” he wrote. [Source]

Meanwhile, Chinese citizens have taken to weibo to express their grief over the deaths. From AFP:

Social media users mourned the two girls killed on board.

“In a country of families with mostly single children, how can the parents take this?” wrote one on the Chinese microblog Sina Weibo, referring to China’s population-control policy limiting most families to one child.

“Life is supposed to have just started for them,” said another user. “Who knew the journey to the dream would become their last trip?” [Source]

182 passengers are being treated at local hospitals, 49 of whom reportedly have critical injuries.

Update: The New York Times had some more details about Ye and Wang and the program they were planning to attend in California:

To see it all, the Chinese teenagers from Zhejiang Province had to fly through Seoul, South Korea, and into International Airport, where their plane clipped the edge of the runway, skidded and burst into flames. Two of the students were left dead on the tarmac — the only fatalities — as their classmates fled the burning aircraft.

The two 16-year-old victims were identified on Sunday as Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia, both girls from the town of Jiangshan, who were among 34 10th-grade students and chaperones bound for the camp at West Valley Christian School outside Los Angeles.

Online, Wang Linjia had posted that she hoped time could dilute “the thick coffee in her cup,” perhaps easing some sadness about separating from her classmates for the coming school term back home. Ye Mengyuan had written just days ago that she was “gloomy,” but other posts hinted at a brighter side: a love of dogs, of animation and of Japanese, Korean and American television.

The girls and their classmates were part of a wave of thousands of affluent Chinese children who come to the United States each summer for language study and cultural immersion, many passing through California on their way to tour Ivy League campuses, go swimming, eat chili dogs and practice their English. [Source]

Also, investigators are looking into the possibility that one of the girls may have been killed after being run over by a rescue vehicle after the crash. From the Contra Costa Times:

The San Mateo County Coroner’s office received information from the San Francisco Fire Department Saturday that there is a possibility that one of the girls was run over by an emergency vehicle on the runway. An autopsy was being performed Sunday and results may be available by Monday, said San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault. He will determine if the girls injuries are from being run over or the plane crash.

One of the girls appeared to have been thrown from the rear of the plane and landed on the runway when the tail broke off, the other was found near the wreckage, he said.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, when asked by a reporter about the possibility that one of the fatalities was the result of being hit by a fire truck at the scene, said it was something that he heard discussed but that it wasn’t verified. [Source]

Investigators have further discovered that the pilot in control of the plane at the time of the crash was in training and had never before landed a Boeing 777 at SFO.