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Video: Heroes tell of lifting burning car to save man

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    >>> now though those good samaritans in utah being hailed as heroes for their daring rescue of a motorcyclist trapped beneath a burning car . we'll talk to some of the men in a moment. but first, nbc's george lewis has more on this amazing story. george, good morning.

    >> reporter: good morning, savannah. and college student named brandon wright, 21 years old, is in the hospital behind me, expected to make a full recovery this morning. this, after a group of ordinary citizens pulled him from beneath a flaming car. without them, he might have burned to death. moments after the car collided with wright's motorcycle, local 911 switchboards lit up.

    >> the motorcycle is spitting out fire and i don't know if it's going to explode or not.

    >> wright, a student at utah state university , is alive this morning because of the kindness of strangers. a group of people who rushed in to rescue him, as he was trapped under the car that hit his motorcycle, rupturing the gas tank . brandon was conscious as a small group of people tried unsuccessfully to lift the car.

    >> he said he remembers everything that happened. he remembers being under the car and spitting out blood and not being able to talk.

    >> reporter: finally, more rescuers arrived and disregarding the danger of fire or explosion, they tipped the car far enough so that brandon could be pulled to safety.

    >> it was only a matter of seconds, three to five seconds, before there were a dozen citizens there and had this car up on two wheels. i barely had enough time to react to the change of plans.

    >> everyone charged the vehicle, propped it up and got him out.

    >> you don't think too much about the adrenaline you have in your body, it's very high.

    >> before we pulled him out, i thought dead or alive , i don't want to sit her and watch this guy burn.

    >> reporter: police officers ordered the rescuers to back off as they rushed in to fight the fire. because the rescue was recorded on video by someone in a nearby office building , it's gotten international media attention. rescuer matt barney says he's uncomfortable with the hero treatment.

    >> it's second nature. if you see someone in trouble, you help them.

    >> reporter: brandon wright's uncle says his neef fphew has leg and pelvis fractures but he'll come through just fine.

    >> reporter: brandon wright is doubly lucky he was wearing no motorcycle helmet , but did not sustain any head injuries . his uncle said his nephew will now become a major advocate for wearing helmets.

    >> derrick harper, mike johnson a and. cade, i'll start with you, i understand you were the first to notice the fire when you walked over to the scene, what went through your mind when you realized this was a terrible accident?

    >> you know, i wasn't quite knowing what was going on. but i was just trying to figure out where the driver of the motorcycle was. and as i stand there trying to understand where he was at, there's some people running around the car and later on, you notice he's underneath the car and my heart just dropped. i was sick.

    >> i can only imagine how you all felt in that moment. mike, we actually have video of you, as you approached the car. as you kind of surveyed that scene, did you think anyone could possibly have survived this accident?

    >> well, no. the truth is, i thought that we were just removing the car from a body. i just didn't think that the body should just burn with the car. and then the lady that got down on her belly and stared under there right in the flames. she hollered out that he's alive. and after she said that, everybody just converged on the car and lifted it.

    >> and derrick --

    >> i don't know who she was, but that lady, she did a great service.

    >> well, everyone is so amazed, they see all of you basically running into danger. and derrick, i have to ask you, were you thinking this is a pretty scary situation. we ourselves could be hurt.

    >> you know, it really didn't pop in my head about that. it just didn't come, they needed some help. so i just ran around to kind of help out.

    >> mike, as the adrenaline kind of kick in at that moment?

    >> yeah, it really did. i mean there's so many people there trying to help and i, i was thinking last night. i don't think the same people that were there could lift that car and just walking up to it and lifting it when there was no kind of a need. i don't think it could have been done. adrenaline would have to be doing that.

    >> jade, how did you feel when you found out that the person under the car, brandon , is actually going it make a full recovery, according to his doctors. and you guys were part of saving his life.

    >> you know, it's just a miracle. i sat there and looked at him and i was sick. but i have been worried about him. and knowing that he's going to make a full recovery and he's going to be all right, i'm just glad we were there at the right time, in the right place.

    >> indeed, derrick harper, mike johnson and cade lundgren, we're all amazed at you. thank you for being with us.

    >>> thank you.

By
TODAY contributor
updated 9/14/2011 9:32:35 AM ET 2011-09-14T13:32:35

One of the heroes of Monday’s dramatic rescue of college student Brandon Wright from beneath a burning car in Logan, Utah, told TODAY Wednesday that he believed he was only recovering a body for burial.

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“The truth is, I thought we were just removing the car from a body,” construction worker Mike Johnson told Savannah Guthrie live from Utah Wednesday. “I just didn’t think the body should burn with the car.

“Then (a) lady got down on her belly and stared under there, right into the flames. She yelled out that ‘he’s alive,’ and after she said that, everyone just converged on the car and lifted. I don’t know who she was, but that lady did a great service.”

Ad hoc rescue team
The saving of 21-year-old Wright has become a national feel-good story, fueled by dramatically clear video of the rescue captured by an office worker in a nearby building. As the video shows, just seconds after Wright grounded his motorcycle to avoid a collision with a black BMW and slid under the burning vehicle, an ad hoc rescue team assembled to lift the car out from on top of him.

Video: Bystanders pull man from fiery crash (on this page)

Johnson appeared with fellow construction workers Kade Lundgren and Derrick Harper on TODAY. It was a stroke of luck that Wright’s Monday morning accident occurred just 50 yards from the construction crew working on the bustling Utah State University campus. Seemingly out of nowhere, students, businessman and passersby joined the workers in an on-the-spot rescue team that likely saved Wright’s life.

Video: Heroes tell of lifting burning car to save man (on this page)

Logan’s assistant chief of police Jeff Curtis told NBC News the rescuers' efforts, at their own considerable peril, likely saved Wright's life. “They did a great job of getting him the help that he needed,” Curtis said. “I’m impressed they would risk their own safety to lift the car up.”

Lundgren told Guthrie he was bewildered by the scene when he first arrived. “I wasn’t quite knowing what was going on, but I was just trying to figure out where the driver of the motorcycle was … you notice he’s underneath the car, and my heart just dropped. I was sick.”

TODAY
From left, Derrick Harper, Mike Johnson and Kade Lundgren spoke from Utah Wednesday about their role in the dramatic rescue of a motorcyclist from beneath a burning car.

Johnson initially tried to lift the 2-ton car on his own, but even after five others joined him, they were unable to do it. But a split-second after the mystery woman determined Wright was still alive, others arrived to pitch in. All told, about a dozen people put their muscle into lifting the car on its right side, enabling a construction worker to drag Wright out from under.

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All the while, the citizen rescuers were not only dealing with flames blazing out from the car, but also from Wright’s motorcycle, which was nearly engulfed in fire.

Anvar Suyundikov, one of the citizen rescuers identified at the scene, told NBC News Tuesday that the improvised rescue team felt the heat as they lifted the car while flames danced near them. “It was very hot, hot and kind of dangerous,” Suyundikov said. “I thought (the car) was close to (exploding).”

Video: Boy brought back to life after ocean rescue

Still, unassuming rescuer Harper told Guthrie Wednesday that it didn’t occur to him that he was putting himself in jeopardy. “It really didn’t pop in my head about that,” he said. “It just seemed somebody needed some help, so I just went ahead and helped out.”

Wright was airlifted to Intermountain Medical Center, and while he is dealing with broken bones, he is expected to make a full recovery. "I'm just very thankful for everyone that helped me out," Wright told The Associated Press by telephone from his hospital bed. "They saved my life."

Lundgren smiled at the news Wright would pull through. “You know, it’s just a miracle,” he told Guthrie. “I’m just glad we were there at the right time in the right place.”

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