TODAY   |  July 09, 2013

Asiana flight attendant: ‘not thinking, but acting’

As NTSB investigators begin interviewing the four-pilot crew of the Asiana flight that crashed while landing in San Francisco, survivors of the crash, including flight attendant Lee Yoon-Hye, who was among the last to leave the plane, are speaking out. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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>>> the crash of asiana flight 214 . they're returning to inspect debris for clues and interviewing the crew for the first time. tom costello is in san francisco . good morning to you.

>> good morning, the ntsb talked to two of the four pilots on board including the pilot at the controls and who was just gaining experience. the ntsb wants to know about the three days prior to the crash. how much sleep did they get? how much duty time did they have? anybody sick? anybody on medications? anybody distracted? we're also hearing from rescuers and flight attendants about the day on saturday.

>> reporter: rarely do crash investigators get to see the actual violent moments of a plane crash and the immediate aftermath as the emergency shoots deemploy and panicked passengers run for their lives. as airport fire rescue crews begin attacking the fire with foam, city fire crews were coming in behind them to help.

>> at that point, i went to a third alarm and declared a red alert .

>> reporter: that means mass causalities. she was among the first firefighters to get inside the plane, fight the fire and search for victims.

>> we had somebody that was partially trapped. as it turns out, there was a small person stuck between the seats.

>> reporter: police officer jim cunningham also ran into the plane to help.

>> people at the run way were hurt and way far away from the plane was the end of the tail and stuff and people down there too.

>> on board, the flight attendant was among the last to leave the burning plane. one of the slides opened inside the plane trapping another crew member.

>> my brain was very clear and i planned what i had to do immediately. actually i was not thinking but acting. as soon as i heard emergency escape icon ducted the evacuation.

>> reporter: meanwhile, ntsb investigators have been combing through the debris field and interviewing the four pilot crew trying to learn why the 777 slowed down to stall speed in the final 30 seconds of flight.

>> about three seconds prior to impact, the flight data recorder recorded it's lowest speed of 103 knots.

>> the plane should have been flying at 137 knots at least. the pilot at the controls was very experienced on other planes but this was his first landing at san francisco in a 777. how did he and the captain checking him out allow their air speed to get so low.

>> we call this getting behind the airplane. the flying pilot may have been overwhelmed and he lost the big picture .

>> reporter: investigators are hoping their interviews will answer critical questions. one question investigators will also raise is whether cultural factors were at play here. where you had two seasoned pilots. were they reluctant to raise air speed concerns with each other out of fear of speaking out of turn or not showing proper respect. that will be one issue they look at as well.