It was the start of a great adventure that their families in China hoped would set the two young women on a path to success and happiness. Rising high school sophomores Ye Meng Yuan and Wang Li Jia boarded the ill-fated Asiana flight 214 to San Francisco for a summer exchange program that many prosperous families in China undertake as an investment in their offspring under the nation's strict one-child-only policy.
According to a post on Weibo by Zhejiang Daily, Ye and Wang had been classmates since middle school and were good friends. They often ate lunch together and Wang's mother believes that the two were sitting next to each other on the Boeing 777 plane that crash landed Saturday, part of a group of 28 students and four teachers headed to the summer program in the US.
A picture of the pair giggling and making a heart with their arms is trending on Weibo.
Some 182 passengers and crew members were rushed to Bay Area hospitals with injuries, 49 of whom were critical condition. Ye and Wang were the only two fatalities. Seated in the rear of the plane, they were apparently ejected when the tail section separated from on impact. One of the girls may have survived the crash only to be run over by emergency equipment rushing to the scene, according to US authorities.
Yuan, 16, was known by classmates as a versatile young woman. She was a class counselor as well as the representative for her English and physics class. Although she excelled in the sciences, she ultimately chose to pursue her love of writing and chose to study liberal arts.
In addition to her academic pursuits, Ye was an active Latin dancer and a talented musician, ranking highly in both piano and singing. She often performed in school shows. Shortly before she left for the United States, she won an award in aerobics. Teachers described her as responsible, careful, beautiful, and smart, according to media reports.
Wang, 16, was described as a responsible and hardworking student with the attributes of a born leader. She began acting as class monitor during her first year of junior high and continued to hold that position until high school where she was named the representative for her English class. Because of her dedication to helping other students she was named "the leader of Class Ten." During a phone interview with the Chinese news agency Xinhua, one of Wang's teachers in middle school stated that Wang had "left a deep impression on her."
Wang, who was active in school radio and television, became affectionately known to classmates as a class hipster. She excelled in subjects such as chemistry and physics and was also a skilled calligrapher with many of her pieces hanging in her father's office.
While the loss of a child is never easy, China's One Child Policy makes Ye and Wang's deaths particularly heartbreaking. For families who place all of their efforts on raising one child, they are often left with nothing and no means to start over.
Both girls were on their way to the United States to a attend 15-day summer program organized by Jiangshan. Their 7-year-old program switched to the U.S. last year from London after the London Olympic Games made program planning difficult. The program gives high-achieving affluent high school students an opportunity to improve their English and become acquainted with American culture in hopes that they will pursue higher education abroad.
Summer camps such as these have been around for the past 10 years and are part of a successful bilateral program between the US and China. Programs range in price between 6,000 to 7,000 RMB to upwards of 50,000 RMB for the more prestigious programs. Both Ye and Wang's parents paid around 30,000 RMB, around $5,000, to send their daughters to the United States.
Every year hundreds of thousands of Chinese students come to America on student visas to study at prestigious universities and boarding schools. China is the top provider of foreign students to US colleges. This wave of exchange students represents China's growing middle class as international study becomes a rite of passage for the children from wealthy families.
The cause of the crash is under investigation.
San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault announced that he was investigating one of the two teenage passengers killed on Saturday. He believes that there was a possibility that she survived the crash, but was run over by a rescue vehicle rushing to the scene.
Days before her flight, Wang posted on Weibo that when she came back from the U.S., she hoped her Class Ten would have a reunion.