Plane Crash Victims Identified As Asiana Airlines CEO Rules Out Mechanical Failure

7:27 AM, Jul 7, 2013   |    comments
Courtesy: USA Today
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San Francisco, CA -- The CEO of Asiana Airlines on Sunday ruled out engine or mechanical problems in the crash of a Boeing 777 at San Francisco airport that killed two 16-year-old Chinese students and injured more than 180 people after it appeared to touch down tail-first and short of the runway.

San Francisco mayor Edwin Lee said Saturday evening that all 291 passengers and 16 crew members aboard Asian flight 214 when it went down Saturday morning had been accounted for.

The two teenage girls who died were identified as Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia from China's eastern Zhejiang province, according to China Central TV. They were heading for a two-week summer camp in the United States. Their bodies were found outside the plane, which had come to rest between runways.

Officials said 123 escaped without injury and 181 were hospitalized or treated for injuries. Among the injured, 49 are in serious condition and five at San Francisco General Hospital, including a child, remain in critical condition. Among the 47 others at San Francisco General, several were treated for minor injuries, including fractures and abrasions, and were released Saturday night.

Images from the scene showed smoke billowing from the plane and emergency exits open from the plane's fuselage as frightened passengers scampered to safety. A massive, gaping hole blackened by fire stretched along much of the plane's top.

"We're lucky we have this many survivors,'' said Lee.

It was the first fatal crash of a commercial airline in the U.S. since February 2009.

The flight, which originated in Shanghai China before stopping in Seoul en route to San Francisco, was carrying 61 U.S. citizens, 77 South Koreans and 141 Chinese.

China Central Television said the two victims attended Jiangshan Middle School in Zhejiang province, which borders Shanghai.

Jiangshan is a fairly prosperous city in one of China's most developed provinces, so the approximate cost of the U.S. trip --about 29,000 yuan, or around $4,700 -- is increasingly within reach for many families.

Anxious parents had gathered Sunday around the school gate, said student Jiang Wenbin, 19. "They are worried, and nervous, waiting for the news. They only have one kid in the family, so I understand them," said Jiang, in reference to China's birth control rules that restrict urban families to one child.

As federal investigators arrived on the scene Saturday night, there was no immediate explanation for the crash only seconds before what seemed like a routine landing.

Vedpal Singh, who was sitting in the middle of the aircraft and survived the crash with his family, said there was no warning from the pilot or any crew members before the plane touched down hard and he heard a loud sound.

"We knew something was horrible wrong," said Singh, who suffered a fractured collarbone and had his arm was in a sling. "It's miraculous we survived," he said.

One passenger, Benjamin Levy, 39, said it looked to him that the plane was flying too low and too close to the bay as it approached the runway. Levy, who was sitting in an emergency exit row, said he felt the pilot try to lift the jet up before it crashed, and thinks the maneuver might have saved some lives.

"Everybody was screaming. I was trying to usher them out," he recalled of the first seconds after the landing. "I said, 'Stay calm, stop screaming, help each other out, don't push.'"

Yoon Young-doo, the president and chief executive of the airline, speaking at company headquarters Sunday, said, "I bow my head and sincerely apologize for causing concern to the passengers, families and our people."

"For now, we acknowledge that there were no problems caused by the 777-200 plane or engines," Yoon told reporters Sunday at the company headquarters.

He declined to comment directly on whether the crash was due to pilot error or air traffic controllers, but said the three captains on board had more than 10,000 flying hours of experience between them.

Early Sunday, South Korea's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport identified the two pilots flying the jetliner at the time of the crash as Lee Jeong-min and Lee Gang-guk. The ministry said that four pilots were on board and rotated in two-person shifts during the ten-hour flight from Seoul.

After the initial impact, the plane's tail section was ripped off, coming to rest hundreds feet from the main body of the aircraft, which burst into flames.

Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board said Sunday that the black boxes from the Boeing 777 had been recovered were already en route to Washington, D.C.

NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman declined comment on whether pilot error caused the crash. "We have not determined what the focus of this investigation is yet,'' she said Saturday. "We will be looking at everything. Everything is on the table at this point.''

The investigators will work with the FAA, the aircraft's manufacturer Boeing and Korea's Air and Accident Investigation Board, Hersman said. Analysts in Washington, D.C., will examine air-traffic control records, weather and aircraft maintenance issues, she said. Investigators on site will examine the aircraft, the cockpit data recorders and the scene.

San Francisco International Airport was closed for several hours, with incoming flights diverted to other airports, before reopening two of four runways.

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said in an e-mail that she had been scheduled to take the flight, but switched to a United flight to cash in air miles for family members. "We are OK. My friend on that flight is OK, too,'' Sandberg told USA TODAY.

Samsung executive David Eun, who was aboard the aircraft, was among the first to tweet photos and word of passengers. "Fire and rescue people all over the place. They're evacuating the injured. Haven't felt this way since 9/11.''

Asiana Airlines said on its Twitter account, "Our thoughts and prayers are with all the passengers, and flight crew on the flight. We hope to provide you with further info asap... We are currently investigating and will update with news as soon as possible.''

Boeing said in a tweet from its corporate account: "Our thoughts are with everyone affected by today's incident at SFO. We stand ready to assist the NTSB.''

Saturday's crash landing was the first fatal accident involving a major commercial carrier in the U.S. since November 2001, when a American Airlines flight to the Dominican Republic crashed on takeoff in Queens, N.Y., killing all 260 people on board. The last fatal accident involving a commercial flight in the U.S. was Colgan Air Flight 3407, which crashed near Buffalo, killing 50 in 2009.


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