HONG KONG — The death of two 16-year-old Chinese schoolgirls in the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 has plunged China's netizens into grief.
Wang Linjia and Ye Mengyuan, two friends from eastern Zhejiang province, had boarded the Boeing 777 to attend a 15-day English-language summer camp in California. They were accompanied by nearly three dozen classmates and teachers from Jiangshan Middle School, a prestigious institution that has organized study-abroad trips for more than 10 years. Wang and Ye were remembered in local media as student leaders, with gifts for calligraphy and playing piano.
They were the only two passengers killed when the plane crash-landed at San Francisco airport on Saturday. On Sunday, their home city of Quzhou, in eastern China's Zhejiang province, cancelled all student camp and academic trips abroad in response to the accident.
The topic dominated Chinese social media throughout Monday. On Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like service, the hashtag "Boeing 777 crash" generated more than 2 million posts.
Many shared sympathy and sadness, and, in what has become a Weibo custom for tragic events, pictures of lit candles to remember the dead.
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A number of responses focused on news that the pilot was still training to fly the airliner that crashed. On Weibo this morphed into the rumor that he was an "intern." (The pilot has almost 10,000 hours of flight time, and 43 hours flying 777s, according to Asiana Airlines.)
"They learned so fast from China: when doing something wrong, they place the blame on the temporary workers or interns," one user wrote. "But lives do not brook such carelessness and recklessness."
Others expressed sadness that one of the girls may have been killed not by the crash, but by an emergency responder's vehicle. "Oh my god! So this boils down to an average car accident instead of an airplane crash?" wrote one. "What would the killed kids' parents feel about it!"
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An insensitive comment by a South Korean TV announcer attracted particular ire. On Saturday reporter Yoon Kyeong Min said it was "lucky" that it was Chinese people, not Koreans, who were killed in the crash. Koreans blasted the comment and the station quickly issued an apology, but that did not stop it from rattling Chinese netizens.
"Please, have some decency," one wrote. "They two kids are just 16, the golden age of their life. No matter what nationality they have, they deserve sympathy and respect."
Many also debated the merits of a program that sends young students, many of them their parents' only children because of China's one-child policy, halfway around the world. The Jiangshan program, according to local reports, costs roughly $5,000 per student.
"We shouldn't throw out the baby with the bath water," one user responded. "The summer camp is still a good thing. Nobody could expect such a tragedy."