TODAY   |  July 11, 2013

Asiana 911 call: ‘We’re trying to keep her alive’

In the chilling 911 calls made by passengers on board Asiana Flight 214 that crashed in San Francisco on Saturday, passengers plead for help as fire raged through the downed plane. Investigators are looking into claims the pilot was blinded by something at 500 feet. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we begin this thursday morning with the overnight release of the new 911 calls from passengers aboard asiana flight 214 . let's get right to nbc's tom costello at san francisco international airport . tom, good morning to you.

>> reporter: hi, matt. good morning. we now know the pilots waited 90 seconds before ordering passengers to evacuate and during that time the fire was starting underneath the plane. when many passengers got off the plane they picked up a phone and called 911.

>> 911 emergency. what are you reporting?

>> reporter: the first calls to 911 from passengers who just escaped the burning 777.

>> i think the majority of people got off. i tried to stay back, but i think there was at least a handful of people behind me before everyone was telling us to get out.

>> reporter: as more than 300 people escaped down the emergency chutes and the smoke poured out of the plane, the calls became frantic.

>> yes, i was on the plane. we've been on the ground. i don't know. 20 minutes or a half hour. there are people lying on the tarmac with critical injuries, head injuries . we're almost losing a woman here. we're trying to keep her alive.

>> reporter: the ntsb says the pilots waited 90 seconds before ordering passengers to evacuate not realizing how bad the crash was. the tower was already sending fire rescue.

>> two minutes after the crash the first emergency response vehicle arrived on scene.

>> reporter: back at the crash scene late wednesday evening survivors and family members were escorted to the remains of flight 214 for a final look and to remember the two young girls who died. meanwhile, the seat belts inside asiana triple 7 are now getting special attention.

>> if i did not have one more strap around my chest i probably would hit the ceiling on the plane. that's how hard it was.

>> reporter: some of the passengers sitting in asiana 's business class seats had three-point seat belts similar to those used in cars while passengers sitting in economy had only traditional lap belts. during the crash, doctors say many of those passengers were violently folded over their seat belts then snapped back again, causing serious internal and spinal injuries . orthopedic surgeon dr. gary brezina has seen it all before.

>> the injury occurs at the transition zone between the thoracic and lumbar spine and the fracture crushes the front of the vertebrae and sometimes can damage the spinal cord as it continues to go too much further.

>> reporter: airlines sometimes use three-point belts in business class when the seat in front is too far away to provide protection. u.s. airlines have resisted three-point belts because they don't allow passengers to brace for impact and they're not required by the faa. about that lag time getting ambulances to the crash scene, itself, we talked to the fire department last night. it tells us they had ambulances on the scene within 13 minutes but they were private ambulances already here. however, the incident commander was staging them away from the plane because of fear that the plane would explode. meanwhile, investigators continued to talk to the crew and the pilots, looking at claims that the pilot said he was blinded by a flash of light at 500 feet and also questions about whether the auto throttle wasn't working properly or perhaps the pilots didn't know how to work it properly. back to you.

>> still a lot of questions there. thank you. it is interesting to see the seat belts . i've never seen three-point seat belt on a flight.

>> no, never. apparently it was only in the front section of that aircraft it makes some sense obviously. it seems those who had that had superior protection. i'm sure we'll hear more about that in the days to come.