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S. Korean task force working with U.S. government in response to jet crash

South Korean government officials said Sunday they have formed a task force of diplomats and will also work with their U.S. counterparts in response to the crash of a South Korean passenger jet in San Francisco.

The foreign ministry said its task force will be in contact with the South Korean consulate general in the U.S. city and other relevant local agencies to keep a tab on the developments after an Asiana Airlines Boeing jet crashed and caught fire as it landed at San Francisco International Airport.

According to San Francisco fire and airport officials, at least two people have been killed and dozens of others have been injured, among 291 passengers and 16 crew members on board.   

South Korea announced on Sunday that the two victims were Chinese. Choi Jeong-ho, the head of the transport ministry's aviation policy bureau, told reporters that the nationalities of the two have been confirmed by the foreign ministry here.

According to the transport ministry, there were 141 Chinese passengers on board, joined by 77 South Koreans and 61 Americans, among others. Of 291 passengers, 260 were adults and 31 were children under the age of 12.

The foreign ministry said of the 77 South Korean passengers on board, 44 were being treated at local hospitals as of 1 p.m. on Sunday in Korean time.

"The injured passengers are staying at 10 different hospitals, all located within 30 minutes of the airport (in San Francisco)," one ministry official said. "Most of the injured South Koreans appear to be in stable condition, and only a few of them require surgery. We will do our best to identify the wounded and inform their families. If they wish to travel to San Francisco, we will offer any support necessary."

Foreign ministry officials said that Han Dong-man, the consul general in San Francisco, is at the scene of the accident and has asked Edwin Lee, the mayor of San Francisco, for the city's support.   

According to the ministry, Han was already at the airport at the time of the crash because he had been scheduled to fly to South Korea for a conference of consuls general set to open on Monday.

Other South Korean diplomats in the U.S. city have been dispatched to local hospitals treating injured passengers, officials here added.

The ministry also said one diplomat has been dispatched to San Francisco to assist South Korean diplomats at work there. Earlier in the day, a senior ministry official had said the ministry was considering sending a fast response team to the U.S. city.

The official added that the South Korean Embassy in Washington has been assured of the U.S. government's support in dealing with the aftermath of the crash. Also according to the official, Sung Kim, the U.S. ambassador to Seoul, has told the foreign ministry that the U.S. will facilitate trips by families of the Asiana passengers as necessary.

Separately, South Korea's transport ministry said it sent its investigation team to San Francisco on Sunday to work with the U.S. officials there.

Officials from the ministry, the National Transportation Safety Board of the U.S., Asiana and Boeing will participate in a joint investigation, South Korean officials said. 

According to the transport ministry, the special plane carrying six transport ministry officials, two other government officials, 18 Asiana Airlines officials and 37 journalists left Incheon International Airport at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. 
They're scheduled to arrive in San Francisco around 7 a.m. Monday, local time.

In a media briefing, Choi, the transport ministry official, said no exact cause of the crash has been determined. U.S. officials have ruled out terrorism.

"We have not been able to contact pilots of the plane because they're currently under investigation in the U.S.," Choi said. "Our investigators will first review the black box, control tower audio and other information we can get our hands on early to determine the cause."

Also on Sunday, President Park Geun-hye offered her words of condolence and said the government will do everything it can to provide support.

"I would like to send my condolences to the passengers and their families who have suffered in this unforeseen event," Park was quoted as saying by her spokeswoman, Kim Haing. "All relevant bodies in our government will work together and make every effort to quickly deal with the aftermath of this accident." (Yonhap News)