S.F. insists Asiana victim was dead when fire rigs hit her
Jaxon Van Derbeken | San Francisco Chronicle
Updated 10:47 pm, Wednesday, January 29, 2014
The 16-year-old girl who was run over by two fire rigs after the Asiana Airlines plane crash in July at San Francisco International Airport was already dead when she was struck, and a coroner's finding that she was alive at the time amounts to "speculation," city officials have told federal investigators.
"Ample evidence" supports the conclusion that Ye Meng Yuan of China was killed when she was thrown from the Boeing 777 as it crashed July 6, said the airport's chief operating officer, Tryg McCoy, and Assistant Deputy Fire Chief Dale Carnes, in their report urging the National Transportation Safety Board to make that determination.
The San Mateo County coroner, who concluded after an autopsy that Ye was alive before being hit by the Fire Department rigs, called the city's assertion that she was already dead "totally inaccurate."
Ye's parents have filed a legal claim with the city, calling the Fire Department responsible for her death because no firefighter checked her vital signs as she lay on the ground before the two foam-spraying rigs ran over her. A dashboard camera on the first rig shows that the driver had been alerted that the teenager was near the plane's left wing minutes before he ran over her.
Family may sue
The Ye family's claim, the possible precursor to a lawsuit, relies on autopsy findings by San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault's office that Ye was alive before she was struck.
But in its report to the National Transportation Safety Board about the crash, dated Jan. 25, the city said there were "notable similarities" between the injuries suffered by Ye and another Chinese schoolgirl who was thrown from the plane and killed.
Those similarities, the city said, show that Ye died because of the crash, just as 16-year-old Wang Lin Jia did. They include extensive abrasions, head injuries and skin burns from hitting the ground, the city report said.
The city says Ye had no fire retardant foam in her lungs, although she was partially covered in the substance when struck by the first rig and completely submerged in foam when the second rig rolled over her. It also says that although she landed on bare ground, there was no dirt found in her lungs.
S.F.'s information source
The city did not say whether a forensic pathologist had examined the autopsy report on Ye to reach the report's conclusions. Airport spokesman Doug Yakel said only that "we relied on information that has already been made public" by the federal safety board.
The city suggested that the safety board rule that Ye was killed by being thrown from the plane.
"We are not trying to solve the case for the NTSB," Yakel said. "They are still the ultimate authority."
Foucrault said in an interview Wednesday that his office is responsible for providing a "true and accurate, unbiased" report of what happened.
"We did that here," he said, and "this is nothing more than a process of litigation. I'm not surprised by the report by the city and county of San Francisco. But it's totally inaccurate."
Foucrault said there is no recognized test to detect fire retardant foam in the lungs, and that in any event, Ye hadn't been fully covered with foam when the first rig hit her.
"If the first vehicle killed her, she wouldn't have fire retardant foam in airways," Foucrault said.
He also said Ye had suffered massive internal hemorrhaging from her head, which was struck by one of the rigs. Such bleeding can occur only if the victim's heart is still pumping blood, he said.
Foucrault added that the other girl was killed when she was ejected from the plane had suffered no crushing injuries, but that Ye had.
Several firefighters concluded from looking at Ye that she was dead before the rigs hit her. She was first spotted near the plane by an airport safety officer who arrived at the scene less than three minutes after the crash, though he told investigators that he had mistaken the girl for "a big doll" and hadn't checked her.
The firefighters who determined Ye was dead included Lt. Christine Emmons, who told investigators she had reached the conclusion based on a "three-second" visual assessment.
Another firefighter, Michelle Grindstaff, saw Ye curled up, with knees bent. "By the position of the body," Grindstaff judged her to be dead as well, the city report said.
Roger Phillips, the spotter for the first fire rig that hit Ye, initially directed the vehicle around the girl. He also told investigators that he had believed she was dead, but had not checked her vital signs.
Phillips had gone into the plane to assist in rescues when the rig returned a few minutes later and ran over the girl.
The city's report said that "San Francisco deeply regrets the added insult to the body of the deceased which occurred" when Ye was run over. "While there has been some speculation that Ms. Ye was alive at the time of the rollovers, suggesting that first responders mishandled the situation, ample evidence refutes this."
The report added that "first responders are trained to recognize persons who are dead or beyond saving and to prioritize their duties to do the most good for the most people. In this instance, the responding firefighters who first encountered the body were all trained and experienced," and "each individually determined that Ms. Ye was dead."
An attorney for Ye's family, Anthony Tarricone, called the report "completely contrary to the coroner's detailed forensic and factual investigation."Source: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/S-F-insists-Asiana-victim-was-dead-when-fire-5186029.php
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