SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Mateo County coroner's office is investigating whether one of two 16-year-old Chinese students who died following Saturday's crash of an Asiana Airlines jet was hit and killed by a rescue vehicle.
The revelation was the latest in a series of developments in the investigation into the crash of Flight 214, which injured nearly 200 people.
In the seconds before its deadly crash-landing Saturday at San Francisco International Airport, the pilots tried to abort the landing to make another try, officials said Sunday. But, the Boeing 777 did not have enough speed and was flying too low, causing the plane to clip the sea wall, snapping off its tail, before it bounced and slid in a fiery crash.
Despite preliminary findings hinting at pilot error, "everything is on the table" in determining a cause, National Transportation Safety Board Chair Deborah Hersman said of the investigation on Sunday at the start of what will likely be a lengthy inquiry.
Earlier Sunday, officials identified the two 16-year-old girls who died Saturday as Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia, who were among a group of about 35 students and teachers from Jiangshan Middle School in eastern China heading for a Los Angeles-area school for a summer program.
The San Mateo County Coroner's office received information from the San Francisco Fire Department Saturday that there is a possibility that one of the girls was run over by an emergency vehicle on the runway. An autopsy was being performed Sunday and results may be available by Monday, said San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault. He will determine if the girls injuries are from being run over or the plane crash.
One of the girls appeared to have been thrown from the rear of the plane and landed on the runway when the tail broke off, the other was found near the wreckage, he said.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, when asked by a reporter about the possibility that one of the fatalities was the result of being hit by a fire truck at the scene, said it was something that he heard discussed but that it wasn't verified.
"Well there were a lot of reports given to me, some substantiated and some not," he said. "I cannot go into that because it has not been substantiated."
Dozens of passengers remained in local hospitals, including three who are unconscious and two who are paralyzed.
But politicians, firefighters and hospital workers expressed amazement over the survival rate and gave credit to the more than 200 first responders who arrived at the scene, the first arriving within three minutes of the crash. Incredibly, officials said, 123 people walked away from the crash.
"I don't want to discount that lives were lost, that people were critically injured," San Francisco Fire Department Chief Joanne Hayes-White said. "But it is nothing short of a miracle that we had literally 123 people walk away from this."
At a news conference Sunday afternoon, officials gave a play-by-play of the final seconds before impact at around 11:30 a.m. Saturday: Seven seconds before the crash, pilots requested to increase speed; at four seconds, the engine threatened to stall; and at one and a half seconds asked to land again. The target speed was 137 knots, but the plane was "significantly below 137 knots, and we're not talking about a few knots," said Hersman. In essence, the plane was going too low and too slow. The runway is 13 feet above sea level.
Asiana Airlines President Yoon Young-doo apologized to victims and their families, and defended the South Korean pilots as "skilled" veterans. But a spokeswoman for the airlines said later that while pilot Lee Kang-kook had nearly 10,000 hours of flying experience, he only had 43 hours with the Boeing 777, still was in training for the long-range plane and was making his first flight into SFO on that aircraft.
"He was assisted by another pilot who has more experience with the 777," an Asiana spokeswoman told Reuters.
The scale of the disaster -- which Hayes-White said reached a level similar to the Oakland hills firestorm of 1991 and the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989 -- tested emergency response at hospitals, as scores of injured people were taken to at least nine Bay Area hospitals. The packed airliner departed from Seoul carrying 291 passengers -- 141 were Chinese -- and 16 crew members.
At San Francisco General Hospital, 53 patients arrived. At one point Saturday night, the trauma center ran out of blood. The San Francisco Blood Bank stepped in and fulfilled the outstanding need.
As Sunday afternoon, officials said, 17 of the 53 people brought to San Francisco General Hospital remained hospitalized including seven children. Six patients were in critical condition, including one a teenage girl. Three patients, including two flight attendants, were unconscious and two patients suffered spinal fractures, which paralyzed them, said Margaret Knudson, chief of surgery. In all, 26 children were taken to the hospital and 27 adults, ranging in age from 20 to 76.
"What we saw yesterday most people would never see in their careers. It was certainly the biggest emergency I've seen." said Hayes-White, a 26-year veteran of the fire department.
Most suffered head, abdominal or spinal injuries while others have severe road burn, suggesting they had been dragged. After talking to conscious victims, doctors discovered the most severely injured were sitting in the back of the plane, Knudson said.
Wen Zhang, who goes by "Kitty," traveled from Shanghai with her 4-year-old son Xu, her husband and her sister's family. The family took up row 40, near the back of the plane.
"I wanted to take the boy to the USA for his summer break," she said. They planned to spend three days in San Francisco before traveling to Las Vegas, Yellowstone National Park, Los Angeles and Sedona on a two-week holiday. When the tail struck the ground, "everybody screamed," Zhang said.
Within moments, the air filled with ash and the cabin went dark, windows broke and when the plane stopped moving, she was bruised, her husband's neck was injured and little Xu Qixuan had a broken left leg from the seat in front of him smashing backward.
She said a hole opened in the side of the plane near a demolished restroom, large enough for two people to fit through at a time. It was at ground level -- there was no need for a slide or to clamber down rubble. The rushed out, her son crying out in pain and fear.
"I had no time to think of anything," she said. "When I saw it on the news later I realized how serious it was."
On Sunday, she said she still "has no time to be scared. I have five family members in the hospital."
She said her son and husband are doing well, Her older sister Yuan Zhang, husband and daughter are at Stanford. Zhang spoke with her sister last night but is not sure of the severity of their injuries.
"We are lucky because we survived," she said as she left the hospital to go buy clothes for her family. "Very lucky."
The city's mayor addressed reporters at San Francisco General Hospital to praise first responders and the staff at the hospitals who took in the trauma patients.
"It was remarkable, if it were but for the triage that occurred immediately, we would see the miracles that are happening, with the survival rates that we're seeing today," Lee said.
He said he spoke with three of the injured children at the hospital.
"I didn't want to ask about anything that happened on the airplane, there's still a level of trauma there," he said. "But they smiled at least, and were happy to be in San Francisco."
He said many of the adults had lost their clothes and cell phones, and the staff at the hospital was trying to help them reconnect with relatives back home.
He said the NTSB has taken over the investigation of the crash.
"All agencies are cooperating as they go through what happened in detail," he said. "The way it happened, what occurred at the crash site itself all the way through the life saving that's happening right now."
In San Francisco's Chinatown, several churches dedicated Sunday morning prayers to the victims and their families.
Wendi Lin, a church administrator at the First Chinese Baptist Church in San Francisco's Chinatown, said as soon as she heard about the crash she feared that many Chinese people may have died.
"Everyone kept talking about the Koreans, but I knew it was full of Chinese," she said.
The Seoul-based airline is a popular choice for Chinese travelers, who often fly Asiana planes coming to the United States or even moving throughout China. "It's cheaper and, really, it's usually a good airline," she said.
A couple years ago, Lin, who is from China but lives in San Francisco, put her teenage son on an Asiana plane to fly alone from China to the United States. Now, she may be too scared to do that again.
Two crash victims remain at Stanford Hospital in critical condition, said spokeswoman Ashley Georgian on Sunday afternoon. She declined to provide details on the patients or their injuries. Another nine passengers were admitted to the hospital Saturday and are listed as either in good or fair condition.
Seven children who were on the flight were admitted to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, an arm of Stanford, and all are in good condition, Georgian said. Stanford treated a total of 55 patients from the Asiana Airline crash Saturday.
Officials from the Chinese Consulate planned to reissue paperwork for free to Chinese passengers who lost documents in the crash, according to ABC-7.
The group of 35 students and teachers from China were set to arrive at San Fernando Valley-based West Valley Christian Church and School on Tuesday, the church said in a statement.
"En route to WVCS were 35 Chinese students who were on the airplane that crash landed in San Francisco. They were scheduled to be here on Tuesday for three weeks," the school said in a statement posted on its website. "Now, we are unsure what their next steps will be ... but we are certain that God knows and will help us care for them in this time of crisis. Please join us as we learn how to care for them.
"Dear Lord, give grace to their moms and dads, brothers and sisters. Give us wisdom and compassion as we care for our guests from China," the school statement added.
The NTSB has recovered the plane's two black boxes and have sent them to Washington, D.C., to be analyzed, which could provide critical information about why the Boeing 777 jet crashed.
The crash caused chaos in the skies as planes headed to SFO were diverted to airports in Oakland, San Jose and Sacramento. Bay Area News Group reporter Natalie Alund was on a plane from Los Angeles International Airport and about to land at SFO about 12:45 p.m. when her plane suddenly jerked left. The flight attendant told Alund they were returning to LAX because of the crash. Alund's 9:46 a.m. flight on Sunday was canceled. She boarded an 8:25 a.m. flight instead. She arrived at SFO around 11 a.m. Sunday morning and reported that some passengers, including 50-year-old Ricardo Sagarena of Mexico, missed their flight connections. Sagarena is headed to Beijing on business and considers himself "lucky" and "blessed."
"We could have been on that plane," he said.
Staff Writers Mark Emmons, Dan Nakaso, Heather Somerville, Katie Nelson, Elisabeth Nardi and Natalie Neysa Alund contributed to this report.