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SF official: Unknown which fire truck killed girl

July 23, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A San Francisco Fire Department spokeswoman said Monday that the agency is still investigating which rig ran over and killed a 16-year-old Asiana Airlines crash survivor, and infrared equipment wouldn’t have had any bearing on the situation.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that a two-axle truck believed to have run over Ye Mengyuan as it moved to get a better position to spray foam on fire was not equipped with infrared imaging technology now required by federal law.

However, fire spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said officials are still probing which vehicle was responsible for the Chinese girl’s death after Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crashed July 6.

“Our investigation is not complete,” she said. “I cannot tell you what vehicle was involved.”

The first trucks to respond were foam-throwing trucks, but it is unlikely Ye was killed during that initial response, Talmadge said.

“The 16-year-old girl was under a foam blanket” when she was struck, Talmadge said, “and so I don’t believe the incident occurred while crews were first responding.”

Additionally, Talmadge said, all four foam-spraying rigs at San Francisco International Airport have infrared systems to identify hot spots on planes that need to be cooled down, and all four were working.

The Boeing 777 crash-landed after approaching the runway too low and too slow. The landing gear and then the tail broke off as the plane hit the airport seawall, and the plane skidded and spun before coming to a stop.

Two other Chinese girls also died, one who was thrown out the back of the plane and a second who died days later from her injuries.

San Francisco’s airport fire divisions are equipped with four Aircraft Rescue Firefighting Vehicles — the massive foam throwers that usually respond first to crashes or fires — as well as two engines, one truck, two paramedic units, four watercraft and a command unit.

Talmadge said there has been confusion about the difference between what’s known as Driver’s Enhanced Vision systems, or DEV, which describes many different systems aimed at helping fire truck drivers, and Forward Looking InfraRed, which is one particular type of DEV.

The airport is still in the process of installing two other types of DEV systems, she said. One feeds a library of aircraft models and their layouts to computers in fire engines, so that when they pull up to an aircraft they have its layout available. The second is a mapping system that would allow rescuers obscured by fog or smoke to find their way around the runway.

Talmadge said neither of those systems would have made a difference in the Asiana Airlines accident because it was a clear day, rescue workers could see the aircraft, and they knew already where the fire was.

The infrared technology, developed at the Federal Aviation Administration tech center in New Jersey and Boston Logan International Airport, was prompted by two crashes.

In 1990, visibility was so poor that rescuers drove right past two Northwest Airlines planes that had collided in dense fog on a runway at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. In 1996, when a Federal Express plane with smoke in the cabin made an emergency landing at Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, New York, rescuers had no idea where the fire was, so they soaked the entire aircraft with so much water and foam that the plane split in half, exacerbating the mishap.

“After those crashes, we decided to try to see if we could use some military technology to help rescuers see in low-visibility situations,” said former Logan aviation director Tom Kinton.

Adapting military equipment, engineers designed a range of firefighting infrared devices, from $6,000 hand-held thermal imaging cameras with 3.5-inch (9-centimeter) screens to multimillion-dollar fire trucks with voice commands and alarms.

Kinton said the gear was rolled out almost 10 years ago, and it is only routinely used on foam-throwing fire trucks.

The heat-sensing equipment was developed to detect hot spots through the skins of planes that are burning or about to burn, said David Williams, who teaches aviation and occupational safety at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University campus in Daytona Beach, Florida. The technology helps firefighters use a piercing nozzle to get water into the airliners without risking lives.

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