New questions emerged yesterday over the legality of the summer study tour programme that the two Chinese students who died in Saturday's airliner crash in San Francisco were attending.
The victims, Ye Mengyuan, 16, and Wang Linjia, 17, were among pupils from Jiangshan High School travelling to the United States aboard Asiana Flight 214 when it crash-landed.
The girls and many of the 141 Chinese passengers on board where participants in study tour groups.
Yesterday, officials at the school in Zhejiang province sought to play down their role in the study trip to California, which was organised by the Boyue consultancy.
Zheng Liming, a deputy principal for Jiangshan High School, said the school was responsible only for introducing pupils to the programme. He said all contracts were between the participants and Boyue and the school saw none of the money.
But in April last year, the Ministry of Education, the Tourism Administration and other state-level authorities ruled only schools, education authorities and official organisations such as the Communist Youth League could organise such trips.
The main organisers could sign contracts with qualified travel agencies to arrange services such as air ticket booking and accommodation. According to these rules, a consultancy would not be eligible to be an organiser.
Boyue could not be reached for comment yesterday.
In the wake of the Asiana crash, provincial education authorities in Zhejiang and elsewhere have suspended study tours and ordered all primary and secondary schools to review whether their tour programmes comply with government requirements.
A government official in Jiangshan, who declined to be identified, said yesterday that officials were focused on problems directly related to the accident and that investigations into the summer tours were not a top priority.
"Officials are more concerned about how to seek compensations for the victims," he said.
Jiangshan High School started sending pupils on trips to the US in 2006. A two-week tour focused on language studies and cultural immersion costs each student about 30,000 yuan (HK$36,900).
Pupils said they were stunned by the deaths of their classmates.
"Everyone felt sad and shocked," said one pupil, Zhou Xiaoxiao. "No one believed the tragedy could have happened."