Ye Meng Yuan, 16, a Chinese student, was covered in foam retardant but still alive when an airport fire truck that did not have suggested -- though not required -- thermal imaging sensors to alert drivers to obstacles in the vehicle's path.
The Federal Aviation Administration suggested in 2011 that all airport fire response vehicles be outfitted with equipment that alerts firefighters to unseen obstacles and hotspots still smoldering inside an airplane. The truck that hit Ye was an older model and though other trucks that responded had the thermal technology, that particular engine did not, San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Hayes-White said she didn't have enough experience using thermal technology to know whether it could have prevented Ye's death.
"I don't know one way or the other. I don't know enough about the technology," she said.
FAA officials said the thermal technology is designed to prevent exactly the type of accident that occurred when the Asiana Airlines 777 landed short of a runway at San Francisco airport and burst into flames.
Two people aboard the plane were killed and Ye died in the aftermath.
"Had the person been alive -- the foam has a cooling action, but the body would still have given off some ambient heat that could have been visible," said Ben Castellano, who was the FAA's acting manager of airport safety when he left the agency in 2009 after 34 years.
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