A teenager survived the Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco only to be struck and killed by a fire vehicle rushing to fight a blaze that broke out on the plane, authorities have confirmed.
Ye Meng Yuan was lying 30 feet from the burning wreckage of Asiana Flight 214, buried by the firefighting foam used to douse the flames, before being struck by a vehicle racing to extinguish the blaze inside the plane.
Whilst officials remain unsure as to how she arrived at that spot, they confirmed that she had survived the crash.
San Francisco police and the National Transportation Safety Board are now investigating the incident.
"There's not a lot of words to describe how badly we feel, how sorry we feel," said Joanne Hayes-White, San Francisco Fire Chief.
Yuan's family have asked for her body to be returned to China, Robert Foucrault, County Coroner said. "It was a difficult conversation," he added.
Ms Hayes-White said she was trying to arrange a meeting with the family 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 6 July."
In a statement, the Chinese Consulate called on authorities to determine responsibility for Yuan's death.
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.
Foucrault declined to go into detail on how he determined the teenager was alive before she was struck, but said there was internal haemorrhaging, indicating her heart was still beating at the time.
Firefighting crews apply the foam to stop the fire, cool the fuselage and to suppress fuel vapors. They continue to spray it to maintain the blanket because it can break down under certain conditions, a fire department spokeswoman explained.
Fire trucks initially start shooting foam while approaching the fuselage from 80 or 100 feet away. The foam is also used to clear a safe path for evacuees, according to experts.
"This is very rare. I've never heard of it before. I'm not aware of any other similar incident in my 35 years in the fire service," Ken Willette, Division Manager for the National Fire Protection Agency said.
Willette added that amid the chaotic scene that included a burning aircraft, hundreds of survivors running for their lives, as well as those who needed to be rescued, the firefighters' other primary objective was to put down a foam blanket to suppress the fire.
"Their training kicks in at a time like that and they focus on what they see on scene," Willette said. "Their mission going into that operation was getting into the aircraft, to save as many lives as possible and avoid hitting any of the people who may have been going away from the scene.
304 of the 307 people aboard the Boeing 777 survived the crash at San Francisco International Airport.