My Asiana Flight 214 Crash Survivors Interview on ABC7: What It Taught Me

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By Kristen Sze, ABC7 News Anchor

ABC 7 anchor Kristen Sze (back to audience) interviews Asiana Flight 214 survivors Zhang Jing (left) and Yang Lin (right).

ABC7 anchor Kristen Sze (back to audience) interviews Asiana Flight 214 crash survivors Zhang Jing (left) and Yang Lin (right).  Exclusive to air in Bay Area on Tues. Nov. 26 on ABC 7 at 11 p.m.

Mom is always right.

That I learned first and foremost from working on one of the most impactful stories of my career. On Tuesday Nov. 26 on ABC7 News at 11PM in the San Francisco Bay Area, viewers will see my exclusive interview with a couple who survived the Asiana Flight 214 crash at San Francisco International Airport this past summer. The wife suffered severe ankle and head injuries, underwent 5 months of painful rehabilitation and has a long journey ahead to full recovery. The husband bravely rescued other passengers during the escape. He’s tough, but breaks down thinking about his wife’s physical and psychological suffering. Yes, I’ve done tough emotional interviews before in my 20 plus years as a journalist. Yet this one is unique. It was done entirely in Mandarin.

You see, the couple is from Shanghai, China, same as my dad. The wife Zhang Jing is an accountant, the husband Yang Lin is a banker. They have no children, so traveling is their love. In July, they were just starting a U.S. West Coast tour with a group of friends from work when tragedy struck. Zhang was trapped when a collapsing row of seats crushed her foot. Yang lost his glasses and had to find his way out of the plane, throwing out doors and overhead parts that had fallen on top of others, or were blocking the exit. He had to jump out because the emergency chute did not deploy at his exit door. They tell me a great deal more during the exclusive sit-down interview done earlier this month.

Call it fate. I first met Yang at the San Francisco Chinese Consulate the day after the crash. As one of only few Mandarin-speaking reporters for an English mainstream news outlet, I found myself connecting with him, asking about his ordeal. At the time, he said his wife had only an ankle injury. Little did he know at the time that one week later, she would suffer severe brain bleeding that could have taken her life.

In our interview, they speak about the painful five months of surgeries and rehabilitation she went through here. I could clearly see she was still in pain. But Zhang has recovered enough to fly home with her husband last week. That in itself was a monumental task, but they made it. They are home. There were lots of hugs with their elderly parents and friends.

Though it says in my bio on the ABC7 News website, many viewers may not know I was born in Taiwan and moved to the U.S. with my family when I was eight-years-old. My Mandarin fluency is best described as “arrested development.” Sure I can order xiao long bao or ask for a better bargain, but asking someone about an unimaginable tragedy, understanding their detailed experiences, translating their answers into English for ABC7 News viewers… that is a challenge as formidable as navigating the Yangtze River. I spent two weeks putting together the story… even enlisting the help of my colleague Vic Lee to be the husband’s English voice dub. In the end, I think the story is authentic, compelling and inspiring.

Somehow, maybe it’s the Shanghai connection, I could not give any less. I feel a strong tie to Zhang Jin and Yang Lin. When Zhang explains she has told her mother only about her ankle injury but not her head injury, I understand. When she explains she plans to always wear a wig in front of her mother to hide her head scar, I understand. We don’t want our mothers to worry. They have done too much of that already our entire lives. I feel that when my mom emails me at 2AM to revise the all-Mandarin version of my story (posted on after Tues 11/26 11PM) or when she calls me from a trip to ask if I need help with pronunciation.

This story has been an emotional journey for me professionally and personally. As journalists, we try to avoid clichés. But in the end, I think this one is fitting. Mom is always right.

View the interview here:

Mandarin version:

English version:

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