San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White called the death of Ye Mengyuan, a 16-year-old passenger of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 who was struck by a firetruck after the plane crash-landed, a "tragic accident" and said in a news conference that the incident is still under investigation.
Ye, a Chinese student, died of "multiple blunt injuries that are consistent with being run over by a motor vehicle," San Mateo County Coroner Robert J. Foucrault said Friday. "She was alive when she received the injuries," he said.
Ye was one of three passengers killed. Her body was found close to the aircraft's left wing following the July 6 crash-landing at San Francisco International Airport, officials said.
Foucrault said Ye had "crushing injuries consistent with the motor vehicle" and internal hemorrhages. He said it is not clear how her body ended up near the plane's wing and said it was "speculative" that she was thrown from the plane. She was on the ground when she was struck by the vehicle.
Hayes-White, surrounded by members of her command staff, said the coroner's confirmation of Ye's cause of death was difficult for her department.
"It was very hard to hear," she said. "Devastating, heartbroken -- there are not a lot of words to describe how badly we feel, how sorry we feel for it."
Hayes-White said initial reports indicated there was a "blanket" of fire-retardant foam in the area where Ye's body was found.
Firefighters responding to the crash came upon a "very volatile, dangerous situation," Hayes-White said. Debris from the crash was strewn about the runway, and fuel leaked from the plane, she said. When they arrived, the plane was still engulfed in flames, she said.
"It was a difficult, challenging scene," she said.
The department will evaluate its protocols and its response to the crash and see how it can improve its responses to such scenes, she said.
"Everyone is very emotional from this incident," Hayes-White said of her department. "Getting the news yesterday has made it very difficult ... we go to work every day to save lives. Many lives were saved July 6 ... however, I don't want to take away from the loss of the three lives."
Hayes-White said her department made a "valiant effort" to save lives.
The San Francisco Police Department and National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident, she said.
There were numerous emergency vehicles in the area, and neither Hayes-White nor Foucrault would comment on whether Ye was struck by multiple vehicles, saying that was part of the police investigation.
Hayes-White said it is believed that Ye was struck by a specialized Aircraft Rescue Firefighting apparatus, or ARFF rig.
Hayes-White would not comment on whether the department could face civil or criminal liability for Ye's death, saying, "I'm not a legal expert."