Dateline   |  June 28, 2013

'Trapped,' Part 4

As first responders try to free a mother and her daughters from a car dangling off a bridge, the rescue effort becomes too risky.

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

>> reporter: kelli groves, there was no mistaking it, her rescuers were getting seriously worried. as they tried to pry kelli and her daughters free, the car was becoming dangerously unstable. could you feel the car slipping as they were cutting pieces?

>> as they were cutting, i could feel jolts of the car moving. sudden slips. whether it was a rocking from them prying, or whether it was us actually slipping further and further down.

>> what was that like?

>> terror.

>> reporter: she knew now sage was alive. she was sure her life was slipping away fast. sage was bleeding badly. and milo the baby had gone silent again. for what felt like a very long time. kelly did not know if she was alive or dead or dying. she had been stuck inside that death trap for 45 minutes now. as the minutes ticked by her fear started to carry her away. paramedic greg knuckles tried to keep her calm, focused, but it wasn't easy.

>> i remember screaming at him "you can't get us out. we are going to fall. you don't know what you are doing. you don't know how this feels. you are not going to get us out ian time."

>> in fact, greg had an idea that time could be running out. he had no way of knowing how or if all of this would work out. no one did. but what he said was --

>> for now, maybe, reach deep inside for -- for kind of some inner strength. think about your kids. just try to hang on. do it for your kids.

>> i don't know if greg knew at that moment what that meant to me. but i suddenly had a job. and my job was not to think about me.

>> reporter: did you try to sugarcoat it for her?

>> if i did. i didn't try to sugarcoat it too much. but also she had to hear some of the conversations, you know, three, four, supervisors trying to get a game plan together.

>> reporter: their conversations about the wreck and rescue were within ear shot of kelli . she was hearing things most victims probably shouldn't hear. all those scary, what if's, what if the car gives way, opens up? will the ropes and tow truck chains be enough to hoed it in the air, probably not.

>> is has this cable hooked up to it.

>> there was a lot of information she had to kind of process from where she was.

>> i probably would have passed out from fear and terror and shock if i did not have someone to just keep me channelled. it was, it was just, he and i talking at some times. and i was able to -- not look down. because i was looking up to him.

>> reporter: greg told her the fire department had ordered a train, something to grab ahold of the car and keep it stable. it might work. but it was hours away. given the traffic. so they kept cutting. and praying.

>> it was a difficult, long, twisted metal strong vehicle. you know, the guys worked a long time.

>> reporter: but the reality was they didn't have a lot of time. what was your sense of the deadline pressures you were under here?

>> i think my sense of any pressure for deadlines was -- how -- how long frankly sage was going to --

>> reporter: didn't sound good.

>> she didn't look good. i was able to see some of her skin. you know? from my viewpoint. and, she was really pale. not much color left.

>> reporter: they were losing precious minutes. that first golden hour was almost over. it was then, at the worst possible time, that the captains were forced to do an agonizing call. stop cutting they said. the car was going to fall.

>> i remember them stopping the extrication. and saying "we can't do anymore. the car is going to fall." i remember again, thinking, they're giving up. they can't do anything. eventually we are going to just be here until this, until gravity takes its toll.

>> reporter: it was the nightmare on everyone's mind.

>> lit realerally just watch herring fall. that any the nightmare. is just -- that's the nightmare. is just watching, you know, that car fall.

>> reporter: yeah.

>> honestly thinking, i just as soon go with it.

>> reporter: everyone had a stake in this. kelli could read the frustration on the face of the cutting team as they were asked to stand down.

>> hearing one of the firefighters who was just relentless in his efforts to get to sage. and i could see his face. and i could see the sweat pouring off of him. and i remember him saying to one of his -- fellow firefighters -- whatever we do we have to do it fast. we are losing this one. and i could only assume he meant sage. and i said you can't stop. don't, you can't quit on her. she is not quitting in here. you have got to keep going. and that was something i don't think i was sa petzed supposed to hear. but they were desperate.

>> reporter: watching all this between the gap between the spans were naarmy construction guys, cbs, came to a conclusion. all the annoying delays, in the trip before, had put them on this bridge at this precise time for a reason. they could clearly see that standard rescue equipment wasn't going to save the people in the car. this crazy terrible situation called for something unconventional. and now it was time to speak up.