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Firefighter Says That Being Disliked Means Taking The Fall

Back in July of last year, the pilots of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 botched the landing and crashed at San Francisco International Airport. Three people died, one of whom survived the crash but was run over and killed by the responding firefighters. I heard a new twist in the story the other day, and I figured that some of the dynamics might prove of interest to you, my internet buddies.


Right after the crash, this 16 year old girl named Ye Meng Yuan came to be lying next to the plane's left wing. They don't know whether she was thrown clear of the wreckage or carried out by someone — the circumstances are apparently a mystery. After the aircraft was cleared and the trucks covered the area in fire-retardant foam, one of the firefighters on the ground finally took notice of her. She was dead, and just by looking at her they knew right away that she had been run over by one of their rigs. The coroner determined that her blood was still circulating at the time she was struck, so the cause of death was ruled crush injuries courtesy of the SFFD.

The crash was big news obviously, and as I was following along I remember one particular story standing out. It was phrased very kindly, but it basically read as an indictment of the person driving the Airport Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF) truck.

It is a case of a veteran firefighter trying to do the right thing, and having something horrible happen.

The story is so sensitive, long-time police and fire sources don't want to appear on camera — even when they praise the firefighter, who drove the truck that hit the girl.

Forty-nine-year-old Elyse Duckett is known as a sharp, competent veteran of the fire department. Sources say several problems occurred, including those by other firefighters and top brass, which contributed to the tragic accident.

Basically, the story goes that she's off on a lunch run for the rest of the fire station, but when she gets back from Subway, everybody's gone. She suddenly notices the big-ass plane lying in the dirt pouring smoke, is like "Oh noes!," drops the sandwiches and jumps in an empty reserve rig. She tears ass up there without a spotter and promptly pancakes some poor little Chinese girl. This was something of a bombshell at the time, because they usually hold all the details way close with these federal accident investigations. The way I interpreted it was that it was common knowledge in the firefighter rank and file that one person fucked up royally and made them all look bad, so now they were all going to have to eat it. It didn't really make sense that they would be trying to hang one person out to dry over this, because I figured that they'd be way more likely to protect their own under any circumstances.


That story dropped in the first weeks after the crash, and it's taken until now for the results of the internal investigation to begin to be released. Along with this clearer picture of what happened, the firefighter named in the story filed a defamation and discrimination complaint against the Fire Department. She says that there was a concerted effort to falsely label her as responsible for the girl's death, and she claims to be vindicated by the facts that have come to light.


Before her arrival on scene, one firefighter acting as a ground guide for another ARFF truck spots Ye Meng Yuan lying near the left wing. He does the super quick triage assessment you're supposed to use in mass-casualty situations and determines that she's dead or otherwise unsavable. He says she was in the fetal position with fixed expression looking waxy and white like a CPR dummy, so he directs the rig around her and tells his lieutenant that they have their first fatality. She says "'Yes, yes, OK, OK. We've gotta get a line inside,' referring to the need to get a hose into the burning craft as part of an effort to rescue victims." That's all right and proper, since focusing on a single unresponsive patient wouldn't be the best use of emergency resources at that time. The problem is that you're supposed to come back and recheck, but they just plain forgot about her. The lieutenant's got like a million other things on her mind, and now the first firefighter's busy charging into a burning plane. Rescue 10, the ARFF truck he directed around Ye, continues to roll around spraying foam everywhere. It's being driven by Jimmy Yee, and he's not just putting it on the plane, but saturating the whole area with it to disperse any possible pools of explosive fumes. At some point, he runs Ye over and covers her with fire-retardant foam. Eleven minutes later, Duckett arrives on scene and strikes Ye, who is completely obscured.

She says she's actually the person who bears the least responsibility for the accident, so why was she put forth as the sole cause?

When Duckett showed up for a meeting with Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White and other brass on July 22, the claim says, she was told "that she needed to admit to the incident and take responsibility" for the girl's death.

Duckett told her bosses that "there was a video showing that Rescue 10 was the vehicle that had hit and killed" the girl. "Notwithstanding, they continued to insist that Elyse Duckett was responsible for her death."


That same day, her phone starts ringing off the hook with calls from Dan Noyes, reporter for the local ABC affiliate. Three days later, he files the I-Team News Exclusive identifying her as the fuckup sandwich-fetching firefighter treating crash victims like speed bumps cause she was tardy for the party. She says she was set up to take the fall because she's a black, lesbian woman, which may be the case. Another way to look at it is that by putting it all on her, they protect three other firefighters, including command personnel. It's also possible that the brass just doesn't like Duckett for whatever reason, while Jimmy Yee is this popular guy they're looking to promote. Their immediate, knee-jerk reaction seems to have been to make her the scapegoat, though Ye was almost surely dead by the time of the second strike. Also, Duckett had no way to see her under the foam and no reason to anticipate her presence.


All cases drag ever onward, and the latest gambit from the airport and fire department is the insistence that "ample evidence" shows that the coroner's report was incorrect, and that the girl died of injuries suffered during the crash. The San Mateo county coroner found hemorrhaging as a result of the crush injuries and they stand behind the determination that she was alive at the time they were inflicted. SF officials very badly wants the NTSB to set that ruling aside in their official crash report, letting them out from under a MASSIVE legal liability. Seems pretty cynical, though it's definitely possible that Ye truly was beyond saving. I have sympathy for all involved, except not a whole lot for the pilots, who really did pull a serious boner and cause this whole mess in the first place.

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