Official report: SFO crash victim dead before firefighters ran over her

Story highlights

  • Ye Meng Yuan, 16, was one of three killed when Asiana Flight 214 crashed
  • A new official report says she was ejected and wasn't wearing a seatbelt
  • Report: At least three firefighters determined she was dead but didn't move her
  • Coroner says this finding is wrong and she died after being struck by vehicles

Contradicting claims by a coroner and her family, a new report by San Francisco authorities concludes 16-year-old Ye Meng Yuan was already dead when two fire trucks ran over her on the Northern California airport's tarmac.

The official accident investigation prepared by San Francisco International Airport and city fire department officials -- submitted earlier this month but not revealed publicly until Wednesday, states that "ample evidence refutes" the contention that Ye was killed by the vehicles.

At least three firefighters determined that the Chinese teenager -- who, it was determined, wasn't wearing a seatbelt when she was ejected from Asiana Flight 214 as it crashed July 6 -- was dead before she was struck, the report found.

"As trained mass casualty responders, the firefighters moved onto other immediate tasks" after quickly determining Ye had died, the report said. "Tragically and regretfully, two ... vehicles later rolled over the deceased during active firefighting operations."

One person who doesn't buy this argument is San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault, who performed the autopsy on Ye's body. He determined she died of blunt trauma injuries.

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Foucrault said he was giving "an unbiased review" and "doesn't have a dog in this," but said of the investigation's finding: "It is not factually accurate."

The coroner added: "(Her injuries were) consistent with being run over by a motor vehicle and there is overwhelming physical and scientific evidence to support she was run over."

Fourcrault isn't alone. Earlier this month, a lawyer for Ye's family said video shows several firefighters saw her lying on the tarmac, but none "did the basic step of checking if she was alive."

"It's unthinkable," the attorney, Justin Green, told CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360." "It's unimaginable, because the first thing -- the first priority of the firefighters or any rescue personnel -- is saving lives, and the first step in triage is to take the pulse, check the respiration. That was never done."

The 16-year-old was on her way to an American summer camp from her home in China when the crash happened. She and the two other victims -- one of whom died six days later -- were sitting in the back of the plane when they were ejected as the Boeing 777 crashed.

The investigation determined that one first responder first thought Ye was a doll after noticing her in front of the plane's left wing amid a debris cloud. Several firefighters determined "very early in the response" that she was dead but did not move her body, in part so they could devote their time to helping others and also so as not to move it before other officials could inspect it, the report said.

They were all part of an intense, sizable firefighting and rescue effort. Most of the more than 300 people on board began leaving the plane on their own accord within 90 seconds of impact, though five people -- including the three who died -- were ejected and five others were taken off by firefighters. All the while, crews were battling flames inside and outside the aircraft.

"Unique among recent airplane accidents in the United States, the incident resulted in more than 300 persons receiving triage in the midst of heavy rescue and firefighting activity with the potential for an imminent explosion."

The new report lamented the lack of a firm protocol for first responders on what they should do when there's a fatality at the same time as an active firefighting operation involving fast-moving crews, but did not say firefighters erred or caused Ye's death.

San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe announced last October that a firefighter who accidentally ran over her body would not face charges.

The San Francisco investigation report appears unlikely to please those who believe the Chinese teen was alive until vehicles hit her.

Talking about the dispute over how Ye died, Foucrault -- the San Mateo County coroner -- said, "It's unfortunate that it's come to this."

Firefighters saw injured girl before she was run over