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January 16, 2014

Crash firefighters saw girl before hitting her

SAN FRANCISCO — Video from the helmet camera of a firefighter responding to the crash landing of an Asiana Airlines flight in San Francisco shows at least one rescuer was aware someone was on the ground outside the aircraft and even warned a colleague. Yet two fire trucks subsequently ran over an injured passenger.

The video, first aired by CBS News on Tuesday, shows the girl, 16-year-old Ye Meng Yuan, lying in the grass before she was struck, according to an attorney for her family. A coroner concluded she was alive at the time and died when she was later hit by a fire truck.

In the video, a firefighter with a helmet camera tells the driver of a fire truck that there’s a person in front of him. A fire truck-mounted camera shows a firefighter directing the truck away from the person.

What’s not clear from the video is why rescuers didn’t try to move or clearly mark the presence of the person on the ground during the chaotic aftermath of the July 6 crash at San Francisco International Airport.

Shortly after the crash, rescue officials confirmed that one of the plane crash victims was run over by a fire truck. Firefighters told investigators they assumed the girl was dead and hurried on toward the damaged aircraft, according to documents released by the NTSB.

“This is not a matter of us being careless or callous,” Assistant Deputy Chief Dale Carnes told the federal safety board last month. “It was the fact we were dealing with a very complex environment.”

The video, which was released to The Associated Press on Wednesday by attorneys for the girl’s family, reflected much of what officials have said, only with more detail.

About 15 minutes after the driver of the fire truck was alerted to the girl’s presence, the video shows that same truck running over her, according to CBS. Footage of her being run over was not aired in the CBS News broadcast.

The helmet camera shows another truck driving over her minutes after that, according to CBS News, which said it obtained the video from a person close to Yuan’s family.

The San Francisco Chronicle first reported on the video’s content, but did not release the video publicly.

It’s still unknown how Yuan got out of the plane. Interviews for an ongoing National Traffic Safety Board investigation found Yuan was covered with foam and struck twice.

“At least five firefighters knew of her presence before she was covered in foam. Nobody examined her, nobody touched her, nobody protected her, moved her or did anything to take her out of harm’s way, and then they abandoned her there,” said Anthony Tarricone, an attorney for Yuan’s family, which has filed a legal claim against the City of San Francisco.

San Francisco fire spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said on Wednesday she could not comment on the video because of the pending litigation, though she confirmed there were videos and a few still photographs of the scene that were taken by firefighters and turned over to the department. The videos and photographs were given to attorneys who have filed lawsuits representing victims of the crash, Talmadge said.

San Francisco’s fire chief, Joanne Hayes-White, explicitly banned firefighters from using helmet-mounted video cameras after images from such a recording of the Asiana Airlines crash scene first became public. Hayes-White told the San Francisco Chronicle she was concerned about the privacy of victims and firefighters.

The department subsequently said it was reviewing that policy.

In all, 304 of the 307 people aboard the Asiana flight survived after the airliner slammed into a seawall at the end of a runway during final approach for landing.

The impact ripped off the back of the plane, tossed out three flight attendants and their seats, and scattered pieces of the jet across the runway as it spun and skidded to a stop.

Yuan was one of three Chinese teens who died; one died during the crash, and another died later in the hospital.

———

Associated Press writer Paul Elias contributed to this report.

 

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