A television report with newly obtained video and documents raised new questions Friday about the San Francisco Fire Department’s response to the deadly Asiana Airlines crash five years ago this day.
Video dropped off anonymously at ABC 7 KGO for reporter Dan Noyes showed a San Francisco battalion chief speaking dismissively about what was perhaps the most tragic loss in the July 6, 2013, crash that killed three and injured dozens. The video also shows the battalion chief telling Chief Joanne Hayes-White about it hours later, though she said nothing publicly for days.
The footage from the helmet camera of San Francisco Fire Battalion Chief Mark Johnson captures the moment he learned a city fire truck that had come to spray fire suppressing foam on the smoldering jet had run over 16-year-old passenger Ye Meng Yuan as she lay on the airfield.
“Oh my God,” Johnson says in the video obtained by ABC 7. “She got run over.” After another firefighter noted “you can see the tire tracks right there,” Johnson responds: “I mean, s— happens, you know?”
Hours later, the video shows, Johnson informs department brass.
“Chief, there’s a woman there who’s been run over by one of our rigs,” Johnson says in the video, acknowledging that “this happened earlier.” When the chief asks, “is she, like, crushed?” he replies that “like someone dropped a pumpkin.”
The chief, however, said nothing about the girl being run over until two days later, after initially declaring that the department’s response to the crash was “a well-coordinated effort” and that “everything “worked as best as it possibly could have.”
In a response emailed to this news organization, Hayes-White said “the basis of my statement regarding the response was that firefighters arrived at the scene within three minutes, encountering a very large debris field with hundreds of injured passengers evacuating a burning aircraft.
“The Firefighters did something that has rarely been done,” Hayes-White continued. “They boarded the burning aircraft and rescued multiple non-ambulatory passengers. Most certainly, had they not acted quickly, there would have been more fatalities.”
The chief added that medical crews had effectively triaged, treated and transported hundreds of patients, and gotten the most severely injured to hospitals so they could receive the life-saving care.
“Faced with the challenges that first responders had,” Hayes-White said, “they performed extraordinarily well.”
Regarding her saying nothing at the time about the girl being run over, Hayes-White said that “public officials most certainly have a duty to tell the truth.” But she added that in those first couple of days, while the San Francisco police and National Transportation Safety Board conducted their investigation, “it would have been speculative and irresponsible to report something without having confirmation.”
The San Mateo County Coroner later concluded that Ye was alive and lying outside the plane near one of its wings when the trucks ran over her. San Mateo County prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against San Francisco firefighters for what they deemed a “tragic accident.”
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. The U.S. Department of Transportation fined Asiana Airlines $500,000 for failing to assist the flight’s passengers’ family members. The airline settled the last passenger legal claim last September.
The new video affirms earlier reports that several firefighters knew that Ye was lying on the airfield. A law firm representing the three Chinese teen girls who died and other victims who were injured had asserted shortly after the crash that San Francisco firefighters had left Ye “unattended and not properly protected, tended to or properly cared for.”
The video and internal fire department documents, including a timeline, show the plane came to a rest on the runway at 11:28 a.m. Firefighters saw Ye lying in a fetal position on the ground near the smoking plane at 11:36 a.m.
But firefighters can be seen in the video walking past Ye without checking on her condition, rendering aid or even marking her location. The video shows the trucks applying foam to the smoking jet and apparently losing track of Ye as she lies covered in foam and is run over at 11:50 a.m. The TV report says Johnson didn’t report the body to command staff for two hours.
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