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Girls killed in crash were headed for camp

By Katie Hunt, for CNN
updated 5:43 AM EDT, Tue July 9, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Parents of the two girls killed arrive in San Francisco
  • NEW: Asiana Airlines' CEO apologized to the parents during their layover in Seoul
  • Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia, both 16, both died after the crash
  • One of the girls killed may have been hit by emergency vehicle

Hong Kong (CNN) -- The two teen girls were close friends, each looking forward to a summer trip to California to improve their English.

Ye Mengyuan excelled at the piano, just as she did in her academics. Wang Linjia enjoyed calligraphy and, according to local media, her work at the school's TV and radio stations.

Classmates since junior high, the girls often ate lunch together at school, and few were surprised that they chose to sit together on the 10-hour flight that led to their deaths Saturday.

Asiana Airlines Flight 214 had started in Shanghai, China, where the two girls boarded. Then, with a stop in Seoul, South Korea, the flight headed for San Francisco.

The Boeing 777 was seconds from landing Saturday when its rear end struck the edge of the runway at San Francisco International Airport, sending it spinning and erupting in flames.

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When medics arrived, they found the bodies of the two girls on the runway, next to the burning wreckage.

Tragic still, one of them may have been struck by a first responder's vehicle, authorities said.

"Our examination will determine whether (the death) was from the airplane crash or secondary incident," San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said.

Remarkably, 305 people survived the crash.

Ye and Wang were the only two who didn't.

'Oh, Lord have mercy': Witness captures fatal jet crash

Headed to camp

The pair, along with 28 classmates and four teachers, were headed to a summer church camp held by the West Valley Christian School near Los Angeles. The camp is aimed at helping foreign students improve their English skills.

Study tours are increasingly popular for Chinese families that can afford them. Another group of students and teachers from Taiyuan in Shanxi province were also on the flight.

The tours usually last around two to three weeks and cost about $5,000, with the East and West Coasts of the United States the most popular destinations.

West Valley Christian School said on its website that the girls and their group had been due to arrive Tuesday and stay for three weeks.

Instead, some members of the group are still hospitalized in San Francisco, waiting for their families, said Derek Swales, administrator for the school. Once they recover, they will be returning to China for the summer instead of coming to camp, he said.

Students from the group were carrying bags and blankets labeled "Salvation Army" when they arrived at a San Francisco hotel on Monday. They met with China's counsel general, standing solemnly in a circle as he spoke. An adult with them said they were having a difficult time. "They spent the morning crying," the adult said.

The girls would have studied language, arts and culture during their stay at the camp.

Ye was also looking forward to visiting college campuses, Chinese media said.

A picture in Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper showed two grinning, bespectacled girls wearing red-and-yellow tracksuits and making a heart shape with their arms.

Chinese netizens mourn Asiana crash victims

A school in mourning

Back home in Jiangshan in eastern China, students mourned the death of two of their own.

At a vigil, they placed candles in the shape of a heart, hugged each other and wept.

"We hope we can send the two who died our wishes and hope that they will be in heaven, in peace," said Chai Peng Lei, 18.

Wang was known as a natural leader in the classroom at Jiangshan High School, friends and teachers say. She studied hard and wanted to be a journalist.

Her teacher told the Beijing Morning Post that Wang was hard-working and inquisitive.

"She was attentive and responsible and communicated with other students when there were problems," the teacher said. "That's why she was elected class leader three years in a row."

Her classmate, Lu Hao, told the newspaper Wang was always smiling.

"She was tall and skinny and very nice to others," Lu said.

A keen painter and calligrapher, Wang produced artwork that was said to hang on the wall of her father's office.

Ye's mother told the paper her daughter had won the school's annual speech contest. Her music teacher said she possessed a special skill at singing and playing the piano.

Word of the girls' deaths devastated other parents in the community, many of whom had sent their own children on the same summer trip.

For years, the elite school has been sending students to the United States for the summer, so when the news came, father Mao Xiao Qiang said he thought it was a joke.

"The second feeling was surprise, and then I was terrified. I immediately called my boy, and luckily, I found he was OK," he said. "As a father, I feel very sad. I saw those girls when we were saying goodbye."

Grieving parents arrive in U.S.

Ye's and Wang's parents left for San Francisco on Monday bring the bodies of their beloved girls home, the school's principal said.

During a layover in Seoul, Asiana Airlines President and CEO Yoon Young-doo met the parents at the airport and apologized.

The families later arrived in San Francisco on Monday night, China Daily reported.

CNN's David McKenzie in Jiangshan, Steven Jiang in Beijing, Dan Simon and Linda Hall in San Francisco, Stephanie Elam in Los Angeles and Jackie Castillo in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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