The two Chinese teenagers killed in a plane that crashed in San Francisco this weekend were school-friends travelling to the US together to visit the country’s universities.
Wang Linjia and Ye Minguan, both 16, were among 34 students from the city of Jiangshan in eastern China, whose parents had spent around $5,000 (£3,350) each to send their children on a college tour of the US. The 15-day trip, which included English lessons at a summer camp, sightseeing and visits to several California universities, was one of many similar package tours tailored to improve affluent Chinese pupils’ chances of being accepted to a US college.
Their American adventure ended in tragedy, however, when Asiana Airlines Flight 214 from Shanghai, via Seoul, crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport at around 11.30 on Saturday morning. Of the 307 passengers and crew on board the Boeing 777, Wang and Ye were the only fatalities, though 182 people were taken to hospitals, at least two of whom were left paralysed with spinal injuries.
In a devastating postscript to the tragedy, it now appears that only one of the dead girls was killed in the crash itself, after being thrown from the fuselage when the plane’s tail was torn off. The other may have been struck by an emergency vehicle that raced to the scene immediately after the accident. San Francisco Fire Department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said one of the two bodies, which were found approximately a mile apart, had injuries “consistent with having been run over by a vehicle”.
On Sunday it emerged that the pilot at the controls of Flight 214 was still in training to fly the 777, and had only 43 hours’ experience at the helm of the jetliner when the crash occurred. An Asiana spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times that Lee Kang-kook, who was born in 1967, had been flying in other planes for almost 20 years and was a “very experienced pilot”.
According to investigators, the 777 was well below its optimum landing speed, and at risk of stalling when Lee requested to abort the landing and make another attempt – seconds before the plane’s tail clipped the sea wall at the end of the runway.
Asked about the possibility of pilot error, National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman Deborah Hersman said it was too early to rule anything out. The investigation will likely last at least a year.
The two dead teenagers were both described as excellent pupils at the formidably academic Jingshian Middle School. The Youth Times, an official newspaper in Zhejiang province, reported that Wang and Ye had been classmates and close friends for the past four years. Wang is said to have been a popular class monitor, who shone in physics. Her family’s neighbour, a Mrs Xia, said she was a diligent student who was “very keen to learn”.
Ye, meanwhile, was a strong literature and music student, who recently won a national gymnastics competition. September Mao, a fellow pupil at the school, told the paper that Ye, “loved to smile, and liked to share everything and anything that is happy”.
The parents of both girls travelled to San Francisco yesterday. Wang’s father, Wang Wensheng, told reporters at Shanghai airport shortly before his departure, “I’m going to see my daughter.”