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Report: SF Airport fire rig had no heat-sensing equipment

Report: SF Airport fire rig had no heat-sensing equipment
Asiana flight 214 is dismantled and hauled to a hangar at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, July 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Bay Area News Group, Jane Tyska)
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A fire rig that ran over and killed a 16-year-old Asiana Airlines crash survivor was not equipped with heat-sensing equipment that might have detected her in its path, a newspaper reported Monday.

San Francisco fire officials have acknowledged the older-model engine that ran over Ye Meng Yuan did not have the forward-looking infrared technology, the San Francisco Chronicle said (http://bit.ly/12Xyx4J).

The technology measures heat given off by objects on the ground and is now required by the Federal Aviation Administration on all new aircraft rescue trucks. Other fire rigs at San Francisco International Airport have it, and three more rescue rigs at the airport are in the process of getting it installed, Assistant Deputy Fire Chief Dale Carnes said.

He said he did not know if the technology would have prevented Ye's death.

"That would be complete conjecture," he said.

Ye had survived the crash and was covered in fire retardant foam when the rig hit her while racing to extinguish flames on the plane, authorities have said. They believe she was on the ground when she was struck.

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

Williams said the detectors, known as forward looking infra-red systems, are also used by firefighters rushing through blinding snow, smoke, fog or rain to avoid hitting people.

"I don't fault the driver," Williams said of the death in San Francisco. "Given the equipment he had, he did the best he could. With better equipment, however, perhaps this could have been avoided."

He said firefighters are trained to scan the ground directly in front of them to avoid people and debris that could pop their tires.

Williams said the amount of cooling of Ye's body due to the foam - a thick, soap-bubble like substance that cools and extinguishes fires - would be crucial to whether her image appeared on the heat-detecting device.

Still, Ben Castellano, former acting manager of airport safety for the FAA, said the technology might have saved a life.

"The foam is, in layman's terms, designed to smother a fire so the chances are that the body would still have probably been detected," he said.

Castellano said there is no FAA rule requiring the equipment on existing aircraft rescue and firefighting trucks unless an airport buys those trucks with FAA grant funds.

San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault has declined to go into detail on how he determined the teenager was alive before she was struck, but said there was internal hemorrhaging indicating her heart was still beating at the time.
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