Dateline   |  June 28, 2013

'Trapped,' Part 5

First responders take a break from a dangerous rescue attempt-until some young navy men offer their help and a very unusual piece of equipment.

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

>> morrison: the crashed bmw had been hanging off the bridge for about an hour, and the time came to face facts. the rescue, i´m afraid, had become too dangerous to continue. one more cut, one more move to get near the injured passengers might send the whole wreck with kelli groves and her daughters off the bridge to sure and certain death.

>> nuckols: it was really hard for them just to even stop cutting ´cause they were close, you know? really close.

>> morrison: across the bridge, the seabees , those navy engineers, were a study in frustration. they´d wanted to help all along, but out of respect for the civilian officers in charge, the young military men had not pushed too hard. now they decided a more forceful approach was in order. that last minute addition they´d made to the convoy, it was a giant forklift. the seabees believed it could be the key to the rescue. they just had to make that clear to someone in charge.

>> man: so i went to the... one of the c.h.p. officers, and i tried to make it to where he´d be able to understand, i have this extendable-boom forklift.

>> morrison: what the c.h.p. and firefighters could not have known was that this forklift isn´t your average home depot kind of forklift. no, this was more like a science-fiction robot forklift. it tilts. it bends. it moves in pretty much every direction. it can lift 11,000 pounds.

>> man: we got our description across, and he was like, "well, how long will it take you to get here?"

>> man: by the time i said, "it´s right there," here comes the forklift.

>> nuckols: and i looked up the road on highway 101 , and coming southbound in the lane is their versalift. everybody´s calling it over.

>> morrison: but would it really do what the navy men hoped it would -- support the car? seemed like a good idea, but in this situation, anything could happen. slowly and carefully, the seabees maneuvered their forklift to reach across the gap. but just as they began to tuck it into the car, someone called a halt.

>> kelli: and all i could do is look down, and i see this metal fork coming under my feet and hearing this "whoa! whoa! wait! her feet are there!" and i said, "i´ll move my feet. it´s gonna hurt, but i´ll move my feet."

>> morrison: it did hurt. remember, kelli was injured, too. her pelvis was broken. she could feel the bone grinding as she moved. but then, with kelli ´s feet out of the way, the runners of the forklift slid into place, and suddenly, this much was clear. if you could have invented exactly the right machine for this particular, unimaginable situation, it would have been this tiltable, extendable forklift. have you ever seen it used in a situation anything remotely like that before?

>> man: no, sir.

>> man: never.

>> nuckols: i knew we turned a corner, you know.

>> morrison: that was huge? >> nuckols: huge.

>> morrison: the firemen started cutting open the car again, aggressively now because they could and because they couldn´t afford to lose any more time. kelli and her girls had been stuck in the wreck for an hour and a half. but now, thanks to the forklift, there was hope.

>> nuckols: for me, i knew that´s a platform to work off of. i can go out onto that and at least do something -- put a harness on kelli .

>> kelli: and at that point, it wasn´t too long after that, that i remember seeing this big piece of metal being taken out, and i could see the sky up through it. and that´s when they said, "we can see sage. we don´t know what condition she´s in."

>> morrison: and then carefully, very carefully, they lifted that precious cargo from the wreckage.

>> kelli: i watched sage being pulled out of the car and put on the stretcher, and i asked, "is she alive?" "yes, she´s alive."

>> morrison: how did she look as she came out of there?

>> nuckols: she was pale. and, uh... she was confused and just looked exhausted.

>> morrison: but it wasn´t over, and kelli knew that. kelli could see now the mangled space where her daughter´s body had been just seconds before, and she noticed something.

>> kelli: and i looked down, and her doll that she had brought on her trip was sitting, still left in the car. and i picked it up and handed it to one of the rescuers. i said, "she´s gonna need this."

>> morrison: sage was in critical condition . as the paramedics rushed the broken child off to the helicopter, kelli turned her attention to baby mylo -- so quiet in the back of the car. sergeant don clotworthy of the california highway patrol was watching.

>> clotworthy: and nobody knew at that time if this baby was alive or dead.

>> morrison: there was no movement coming from the car seat ?

>> clotworthy: there wasn´t any movement from the car seat .

>> morrison: it had been about two hours since the crash. while the forklift supported the car, firefighter-paramedic greg nuckols stepped onto the forks and scrambled over the car to the baby´s open window . he reached inside and saw kelli ´s hand still, after all that time, clutching the baby´s seat.

>> kelli: i remember he said, "okay, you need to let go of her."

>> morrison: [ laughs ]

>> kelli: and my hands were stuck, because for 2 1/2 hours of white-knuckling this car seat . he said, "i got her."

>> nuckols: i actually had to kind of take kelli ´s hand off of her, and then i unclipped mylo from the car seat and really quickly handed her up to the other rescuers.

>> morrison: and what did you see?

>> nuckols: beautiful, smiling baby.

>> morrison: like nothing happened.

>> nuckols: was crying, and i was like -- she was pink and dry, and i said, "this is great."

>> morrison: she had been fast asleep.

>> kelli: and i was able to see this little tiny thing in her little onesie being lifted out and passed over.

>> morrison: probably felt pretty good to... do the hand-off.

>> nuckols: i took a huge, huge, huge deep breath after that one.

>> clotworthy: there were motorists who were stopped in traffic that had gotten out to watch the operations. people were weeping and crying and clapping, they were so excited.

>> morrison: the tow-truck driver, brian gomez, had waited so long to see that baby.

>> gomez: little arms and legs were moving, and it was like, "oh, my god, it is such a relief."

>> morrison: and it was. baby mylo was whisked off by ambulance, seemingly all right. but sage, sage was not out of danger.

>> kelli: i had no idea what condition her body was in or how much time she had. and...i just prayed that she would make it to the hospital where someone could save her.