CNMI, Chinese Officials Debrief Survivors Of Plane Crash

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Federal authorities working to interview witnesses, survivors

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Oct. 10, 2013) – Some relatives of Sunday’s plane crash victims wept—and were consoled—as they went in and out of yesterday afternoon’s briefing by Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands government officials at the hospital. Chinese consular officers out of Los Angeles, California were also on hand to reach out to them.

Of the three who died from the Star Marianas plane crash on Tinian, two are Chinese tourists.

The four survivors are also Chinese nationals.

The youngest survivor was discharged from the Commonwealth Health Center (CHC) on Monday afternoon.

Three others remain at the hospital in stable condition as of yesterday.

Dr. Sherleen Osmond, a nephrologist and CHC hospital director of medical affairs, said yesterday that one of the survivors is scheduled for orthopedic surgery on Friday at CHC.

An orthopedic surgeon from Guam will do the surgery.

Yu Xiong, consul from the Chinese Consulate General in Los Angeles, California, and vice consul Hongming Wang arrived in the CNMI on Tuesday to reach out to the victims of the plane crash and their families.

[PIR editor’s note: Saipan Tribune also reports that local authorities in the CNMI have continued to withhold the names of the three fatalities, along with the four survivors.]

"We’re very sorry to hear about the bad news that Chinese countrymen were badly injured in this accident, and two of our countrymen passed away," said Yu.

Like the victims’ relatives, the Chinese consular officers also received briefings and updates from CNMI government officials about the plane crash.

"We hope they can [get] better and better under the consideration and care of the people not only here in Saipan but also later, in the future, in China… Let’s pray for them and we do appreciate what you have done, thank you so much," Yu told reporters after the briefing with CNMI officials.

The Chinese consular officers were thankful for everyone who helped in the rescue, recovery, treatment, and other assistance extended to the victims.

He mentioned medical and emergency response personnel, local and federal agencies, NMI Chapter of the American Red Cross, and members of the Chinese community in the CNMI, among others.

Yu said Saipan itself is a "beautiful" island. Saipan is one of the major islands of the CNMI, along with Rota and Tinian, where the crash happened.

But with the appreciation comes a word of request.

"The most important thing we do hope, that the security measurement, the equipment relevant will be guaranteed, and the proper matters be taken by the federal government and the local government to make sure that every tourist, no matter what country he or she comes from, to guarantee his or her safety," Yu said.

‘Much better’

CHC’s Dr. Osmond said the three remaining patients are in stable condition.

One was taken off a ventilator yesterday morning; the patient can now breathe on his own.

"He is in serious but stable condition and he needs another 24 hour of observation just to make sure," Dr. Osmond said.

Another one needs orthopedic surgery.

"We’re waiting for Dr. Cunningham to come on Friday from Guam to do that surgery," Osmond added.

The other one is now in a regular hospital ward.

"They are all better than when they came in," Osmond said.

Officials from CHC, the CNMI Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Office of the Governor, and the Marianas Visitors Authority (MVA) held a news briefing at CHC yesterday about the status of the victims and other updates about the crash, believed to be the worst commercial aviation incident in the CNMI in at least since the early 90s.

A news crew from China Central Television Asia Pacific out of Hong Kong also flew to Saipan Tuesday to cover the accident. They joined the local media at yesterday’s news briefing.

Marvin Seman, special adviser for Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said there are still a lot of questions that they cannot answer or confirm at this time, including whether one of the three who died was still alive after the plane crashed on Tinian.

"We’re going back to each of the witnesses and the survivors to try and get an account of what actually happened that [day], considering where the plane had crashed, in the thick jungles up there [on] Mt. Lasso, there was no light for more than a mile away. The closest light we could see from the nearest road is that of the radar of Voice of America radio station," he told reporters.

Seman said they have yet to interview the first responders on Tinian, among other things.

Right now, the crash site is still being preserved and secured by the Department of Public Safety-Tinian and the Commonwealth Ports Authority-Ports Police "until such time the investigation is completed," Seman said.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), along with the National Transportation and Safety Board, is now investigating the crash.

Seman said the CNMI has also started preparing the return of the bodies to China, pending the autopsy scheduled for yesterday.

Press secretary Angel Demapan, meanwhile, said the governor’s office has been communicating with the Chinese Consulate General in Los Angeles "since day one."

MVA’s Judy Torres said their China offices have also been monitoring reports in China about the plane crash, adding that it is too early to tell whether the incident would have any impact on arrivals from China.

CHC’s Jesse Tudela, meanwhile, said that based on their observation, the families of the victims have "mixed emotions."

"They’ve been patient with us. They’re just trying to get more answers but of course it’s under investigation," he said.

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