Dateline | June 28, 2013
>>> barreling north across a bridge on california's highway 101 , an 18-wheeler side swiped a bmw, rolled over the car, smashed through the railing and slammed like a meteor into the ravine below. as the the semi. exploded into flames killing the trucker, the bmw dangled precariously off the edge, 50 feet up. somehow, improbable as the it was, an occupant of the mangled little car survived. the mother, the driver. kelly groves.
>> the next thing that i remember is hitting the guardrail and having cement and debris just being slammed into my face. and then -- it couldn't have been too long after that. i opened my eyes.
>> reporter: and there she was -- alive.
>> when i opened my eyes i could hear the popping of tires, i could hear steam. and then i saw this, felt this rush of heat.
>> reporter: and with it terror. this was very bad. it took her a moment to understand just how bad. when i looks done my feet were hanging out of the car. i looked up and saw the bridge above me. and i knew we were hanging there, i could tell right away we were going to fall off the bridge.
>> reporter: she sensed her two daughters behind her, 10-year-old sage, and baby milo. but couldn't make out where they were or how they were. she twisted around to look. a wave of pain slammed up from her pelvis. something broken. she saw milo's car seat . milo, 10 weeks old.
>> i could hear her crying. i thought, oh, my god she has been hurt. she is crying. sage, sage. and there is no sound. so when i turn my neck to see where she should have been, all that was there was metal smashed, car seats folded on top of each other. no space, nothing where she had been. and there was no answer.
>> reporter: there was no seen of the blanket covering sage's head. but she could see a circle of hear through the smashed seat.
>> i reached to tap her head. i am yelling, sage we, have been in an accident. honey. sage, sage, oh, my god, sage. there was nothing. there was no sound. no movement. i started screaming, "somebody get us out of here." oh, my god, she is dead. i lost her.
>> she is in a little pod. screaming, my kids. my children. my children. please, they're my life. please help us. please help us.
>> all i could do was just scream at the people that stopped on the other side because that's all i could see.
>> there is like a little metal, a horrible dangling over the edge .
>> reporter: by now, brian gomez was close enough to try to comfort kelli .
>> trying to talk to her. leaning over. saying it is okay. help is on the way . we called. they're on the way.
>> reporter: in fact less than five minutes after the call, the california highway patrol arrived. then the santa barbara county fire department . one fire fighter was wearing of all things a helmet camera.
>> reporter: it would capture the scary, almost intimate details. kelli 's helpless pleas.
>> we got one hanging off the edge.
>> they said okay we're going to try to get you out. i remember them using the word try. and that to me still -- i thought -- okay. thank you for trying. but you need to hurry.
>> reporter: the imed me yacm immediate concern was the fire below. kelli couldn't understand why.
>> i remember looking down and seeing firemen putting the fire out below me. and i remember screaming at them, what are you doing? why are you putting the fire out? we're up here.
>> reporter: what kelli didn't know that the flames were coming dangerously close to the gas tank still attached to the dangling car. no one wanted to explain that. putting out the fire was relatively easy compared to the challenge they face now. how to get the family out without sending the car plunging off the bridge. the fire crews started by asking brian gomez to hook his tow truck line to the car.
>> they had ropes with them, climbing ropes. they were asking me, do you have any chains, anything, let's get stuff on this to staebli izstabilize it just in case it goes over.
>> well are tying up the car now to hold it stable, now, okay. we will get you out soon as we can. you are doing good.
>> reporter: the paramedic with the santa barbara fire department was about to step into a crisis that looked worse by the minute. what was it look when you got there?
>> the smell of the smoke from the -- from the diesel that was burning below right where kelly was and the family. and then them, hanging there. and that was just incredible. it was really -- hard to kind of wrap your head around it at first, you know.
>> reporter: in more normal circumstances a rescue crew armed with the jaws of life would cut quickly and aggressively to pull the vehicle apart and rescue those trapped inside. but nothing abut this was normal. cutting out parts of a car that is dangling over a ra shevine, no one had done that before. so they started clipping, very slowly, very carefully.
>> i remember hearing the machines -- sawing away or cutting away.
>> okay. we are cutting, we are cutting.
>> reporter: but the car was unstable. cut too much, too fast. the whole thing could fall apart. plunge off the bridge.
>> here we go. head up.
>> reporter: so they inched forward. mindful that their rescue attempt could wind up killing the family they were trying to save.