S.F. plane crash victims were heading to church camp in West Hills
There was shock and grief Sunday among the worshipers at a West Hills church where the two 16-year-old Chinese girls killed in Saturday’s jetliner crash in San Francisco had been heading for a three-week summer camp at the church’s school.
The two victims, Wang Lin Jia and Ye Meng Yuan, were among 35 teenagers who had been scheduled to arrive at the West Valley Christian Church’s school Monday.
Leaders of the 800-member church, located near West Hills’ boundary with Canoga Park, said they had scheduled a prayer vigil for the survivors and the two victims’ families.
Host families, church members and others from the community are being invited to the vigil, set for Thursday at 7 p.m.
In the meantime, church leaders have launched a fundraising drive in hopes of replacing the surviving teens’ luggage and clothing that was destroyed in the crash and resulting fire.
Many of the 600 who arrived for two church services Sunday were unaware that the Chinese who had been students heading for West Hills were on the Asiana Airlines jet that crashed at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday as it attempted to land after a 10-hour direct flight from Seoul. The flight originated in Shanghai.
Between services, Senior Minister Glenn Kirby said the church was waiting to learn whether surviving students would continue on to West Hills or simply return home to China.
“We’re waiting. We don’t know things until they develop. There are a lot of unknowns,” Kirby said. “We didn’t know the students were on that flight. We do know that two of the 35 lost their lives in the accident.”
Kirby said it was difficult for him to preach the sermon he had planned for Sunday morning.
“I can only imagine as a parent how those parents feel. I grieve with them even though I’ve never met them,” he said.
Derek Swales, administrator of the church’s school, said numerous summer camps had been staged at the campus in the past. The Chinese visit was to have been the first this year by an international group.
The high school and middle school pupils would have been taught English and American culture in the mornings and would have toured local universities and gone sight-seeing in the afternoons. On weekends, they would have taken excursions out of town.
He said organizers of the visit had lined up host homes in the West San Fernando Valley area for the Chinese teens.
Swales said he was traveling south on Interstate 5 Saturday after spending Independence Day with his family in San Francisco when he received a call about the crash. He had just passed a charter bus heading north to pick up the teens for a tour of the Bay Area before traveling to West Hills.
A group of South Korean youngsters is scheduled to arrive at the church school in late July for a second summer camp session. West Valley Christian Church members have volunteered to host them.
Church member Bobbie Dandler of Calabasas has signed up to take in one of the South Korean teens. At first, she thought that children from her group were involved in Saturday’s airliner crash.
“I understood that they’d be coming in a few weeks,” she said, adding that she had been stunned to learn that the 35 Chinese teenagers were also headed to West Valley Christian Church.
As the church’s second worship service Sunday got underway, Kirby started with a prayer that acknowledged that only God can see what is happening with the survivors.
“We ask you be there for the parents of the two kids who perished,” Kirby prayed.
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