SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Coroner's investigators and police trying to determine whether one of the victims of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 was alive when she was hit by a fire truck have another mystery on their hands - how she got to where her body was found.
No witnesses have come forward to say they saw 16-year-old Ye Meng Yuan alive in the area where her body was eventually found after the Boeing 777 crashed at San Francisco International Airport on July 6, Robert Foucrault, the San Mateo County coroner, said Wednesday. And several photographs taken in the first few minutes after the crash, while inconclusive, do not appear to show her body.
"The question is: How did she get there?" asked Foucrault, who said he is close to concluding his preliminary report of his findings on how Ye died. "We don't know how she got there - that is what we're trying to determine."
Ye was sitting in the back of the plane, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, but her body was found near the left wing. It's unknown whether she was thrown from the jet when it hit a seawall and the tail broke off, but other casualties who were sitting in the back - including Ye's friend Wang Lin Jia, one of the two other girls who died in the crash - were found behind the aircraft.
Photos of little help
Foucrault said photos and videos he has seen provide little help in determining whether Ye walked to the left wing on her own or was brought there by other means. "Hopefully, through interviews or someone's recollection, someone will be able to tell investigators how she got there," he said.
Ye's body was found at the edge of a paved path near the left wing sometime before 12:20 p.m., the time her death was reported to dispatchers, the Fire Department said. That was 53 minutes after the crash.
Two photos taken by crash survivor Eugene Rah show passengers outside the plane near the left wing, apparently after all able-bodied survivors had fled the burning aircraft. Ye's body is not visible in the pictures, nor are any passengers gathered where she was later found.
Police Chief Greg Suhr said Friday that her body was finally found amid foam that firefighters were spraying on the plane. He confirmed that the girl had been run over by firefighters trying to douse the flames, but said it still wasn't clear whether Ye was already dead when she was hit.
"We know for sure she was at least run over one time, but at the time she was under foam, so nobody could have seen her," Suhr said. "And the question is whether or not she was still alive at the time."
Video: before and after
The police hit-and-run detail has been investigating Ye's death. A video taken by one firefighter shows the apparently lifeless body of the foam-covered girl before and after a rig ran over her, investigators told The Chronicle.
Another firefighter then pointed out the victim, said the investigators, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to talk about the case publicly.
The investigators said the fire rig apparently hit Ye after all the passengers had been evacuated.
A police spokesman said Friday that the rig had been spraying foam on the fire and was repositioning to get a better angle when Ye was struck.
"It wasn't going that fast," said Officer Gordon Shyy, a police spokesman. "When the firefighters repositioning the truck stopped, they realized there was a deceased person on the ground. She was lying down, covered in foam. They marked it, continued on to fighting the fire and notified the command chain there was a deceased person there."
Ye was flying from China to visit Stanford University and then attend a three-week summer camp at a Christian school in Southern California. Her family has been in the Bay Area since last week, awaiting the coroner's findings on what killed her.
"We're concluding our investigation and we'll speak to the family before anything is released publicly," Foucrault said.
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