"Multiple" San Francisco firefighters knew that a 16-year-old passenger from Asiana Flight 214 had been taken from the crashed plane's wreckage and placed in harm's way on the tarmac, where she was run over and killed by a fellow firefighter, the lawyer for the family of the dead girl says.
Ye Mengyuan was "left unattended and not properly protected, tended to or properly cared for".
"She did not have fatal injuries or injuries that would have resulted in death before she was run over by that truck," said attorney Anthony Tarricone, a partner with the New York-based law firm of Kreindler & Kreindler.
The firm represents the families of all three Chinese teenage girls who died and a dozen other injured passengers from the Boeing 777. The firm, which has a team of lawyers in San Francisco conducting its own investigation of the July 6 crash, has handled cases involving some of the world's biggest aviation disasters, including the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing all 259 on board along with 11 people on the ground.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators said Asiana Flight 214 came in too low and too slow before it slammed into the seawall that abuts San Francisco International Airport's Runway 28 Left. Mengyuan, 16, was alive and covered in firefighting foam when she was run over by a San Francisco fire truck responding to the burning plane, according to San Francisco police, who continue to investigate her death.
Although Mengyuan had been seated in the back of the Boeing 777 when it crashed, her body was discovered in front of the left wing of the plane after she had been run over. Investigators have not explained how she ended up near the front of the plane.
"We know that multiple firefighters knew she was there, and she was left there to fend for herself before the foam was put down," Tarricone told this newspaper.
KGO-TV in San Francisco, known locally as ABC7, citing unnamed sources, first reported on Thursday (local time) that a firefighter pulled Mengyuan from the plane and put her on the ground near the wing. The station said that another firefighter, Elyse Duckett, 49, was out getting food for the San Francisco International Airport fire station when Asiana Flight 214 crashed. When Duckett returned to the station, she found everyone had gone to the crash scene, so she got into a reserve truck, Mobile 37, and drove alone, without a spotter or rider to help navigate, according to ABC7.
The station reported that it was Duckett's truck that ran over the girl.
According to an earlier report by the San Francisco Chronicle, the truck was not equipped with Forward Looking Infrared, which uses heat-sensing technology to detect body temperatures.
While not disputing the details in the ABC7 report, the San Francisco Fire Department blasted the story in a statement Friday.
"This news outlet distastefully disclosed personnel information, as well as released incomplete information," the statement said. "Out of respect for the family of Ye Mengyuan and the investigative processes, the department will await the outcome of the investigations prior to commenting any further about the accident."
Mengyuan's family is "heart-broken and devastated," Tarricone said. "It appears that the truth is starting to come out. But I don't believe it's all been told at this time. The bottom line is that there are many unanswered questions about what happened and many unanswered questions about the versions that have been told by various officials at various times."
San Francisco police officials said on Friday they will not comment while their investigation is under way.
Ken Willette, division manager of the Public Fire Protection Division of the National Fire Protection Association, had never heard of a similar firefighting tragedy "in 35 years of fire service".
Willette called Mengyuan's death a "tragic accident during an amazing response to a disaster where lives were saved".
"Imagine responding to an incident, and you see a plane burning," Willette told this newspaper. "You're driving an apparatus to get there and put out the fire. And you see people coming toward you to escape the crash. Your goal is to get as close as possible to lay down a blanket of foam so people escaping are protected from the fire. So you have to focus on the fire and avoid the crowd. It's usually mass chaos in situations like this."