The two teens killed in the San Francisco plane crash, Ye Mingyuan and Wang Linjia, 16, were best friends at the top of their class at highly rated Jiangshan High School in China's southeastern Zhejiang province, where Wang was class president.
In China, a huge story is unfolding. A cascade of tributes to the two 10th graders has sent their names skyrocketing to the top of the most-searched words on China's popular Twitter-like Sina Weibo. Thousands are posting poetry or goodbyes with the girls' photos. (“May there be no plane crash in heaven,” said one).
One close childhood friend of both victims posted a blog in China saying, “We three were the besties. I don't know what to do, that they left me so suddenly. How long does it take to meet friends like you again?”
That post has been shared online nearly 4,000 times in China.
Friends online in China describe Wang and Ye as “happy and bubbly girls.” They attended classrooms right next to one another, ate every lunch together, and were outgoing kids who acted as hosts on their upscale high school's TV station. Both were leaders in Student Union. Social media comments say a lot of boys were their “secret admirers”.
The two BFFs died in the crash-landing in San Francisco. But their destination was a three-week long summer camp in the San Fernando Valley with 33 other Chinese students and their chaperones.
Wang loved drawing, Chinese calligraphy and playing table tennis. Last summer she was honored as the student speaker — like a valedictorian — at her middle-school graduation.
She posted on her microblog the single English word “Go,” before the trip.
Ye loved playing the piano and Latin dancing and had a potential future in broadcasting thanks to her beautiful voice, heard weekly on her campus radio station.
Jiangshan High School is the best in Jiangshan city, and is on the A-list of schools in the province. Usually a select few in China get into such schools, giving them a better chance at attending top colleges in China. Chinese media called the girls “their parents' pride” and “their teachers' favorites.”
The two girls were excited about their three-week stay in Southern California, which was to include a trip to Stanford and walks through local cities. Just before their flight, Wang bought new notebooks to track what she saw and learned overseas, according to Chinese media.
In reaction to the tragedy, local Chinese government has halted overseas summer camp programs, according to Chinanews.com, a state-run news outlet. In fact, what would be considered a major overreaction in America has turned into a widespread discussion about whether all overseas programs will be suspended in Zhejiang province, which is similar to a state.
The school has hosted foreign summer camps for six years. Parents pay about $4,800 (RMB 30,000) for each participant in the program.
The 35 Chinese students were to arrive at West Valley Christian School in Canoga Park Monday, July 8. School administrator Derek Swales told LA Weekly that following the disaster, he was informed by the students that their trip had been cancelled and they were returning to China, having never come to Los Angeles.
“It's a devastating lost,” he said of Wang and Ye. “These are gifted kids. They have great potential in their life.”
The Canoga Park program would have taught the students English language arts and American culture, including the customs of families and American holidays. The children were set to stay with Los Angeles host families. One weekend trip would have taken the class to the Bay Area to visit amusement parks and tech companies such as Intel and Google, according to Swales.
At the Canoga Park school, Dilcia Stewart and her two children, Blake and Subrina, arrived Monday to pay their tuition. They learned of the plane crash when Subrina saw photos of the wreckage on Instagram Saturday.
“My heart goes to them. I'm praying for their best. I hope God gives them strength,” said Stewart, a church member for 16 years. “What is supposed to be a fun lifetime experience turned into a scar for life.”
Subrina didn't realize this year's summer camp students were from China until she saw the news. “It could have been a lot of fun for them to learn new things and English culture,” she said.
Wang had promised her friends before she left for California, “Our class is going to get together,” upon her return. Instead, students and teachers held a candlelight vigil at Jiangshan High School yesterday.