Dateline   |  June 28, 2013

'Trapped,' Part 3

A young mother pleads for help after surviving a horrific car crash but her daughters' fates are uncertain.

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

>>> on a sunny afternoon in california, kelli groves and her daughters 10-year-old sage and 10-week-old milo were trapped in metal, a car teetering over a bridge. kelli , heard milo cry a little. from sage only silence.

>> i knew sage was bleeding really badly from her head. because i was able to get my hand in around her head and it came back blood soaked on my hand.

>> reporter: she could only imagine the worst. sage was in serious trouble. the rescuers knew it too.

>> we are tied done to her right now.

>> no one could reach done to take my hand to try to get us out. i mean it was hopeless.

>> reporter: kelli 's tortured imagination was getting the better of her.

>> we are going to fall and my baby who is crying in the back has no idea that this is the last moments of her life. and that sage is -- she is already gone. i will never hear her voice again.

>> reporter: slowly, gingerly, the rescuers worked the jaws of life hoping to cut the car apart and free kelli and her little girls. the mashed up steel was tied with ropes and tow truck chains. every time they cut or put pressure on the car they worried it would fall apart or fall off the bridge. were you worried that they were cutting too close to sage, especially?

>> i didn't have any fear that they were going to hurt her anymore than she was already hurt. i figured they knew what to do, there just wasn't enough time for them to get it done.

>> reporter: 15 minutes after the crash, crowd had gathered on the bridge. watching from the other side of the gap between the spans was a team of young naval construction engineers, cbs . their convoy pulled up just after the crash. most of them had been to war, had seen the ugliness there. but this? this could be a sister or a girlfriend. this was too close to home .

>> i was just help me get my baby out. help me get my baby out. something you really dent want to ever hear the rest of your life.

>> reporter: the cbs should have been many miles south by now. but they were delayed when one of their trucks brock do s broke down. just before they left they were forced to reload their convoy and at the last minute included a piece of equipment that now they thought might help. and help is what they most ser te -- certainly wanted to do.

>> what can i do? how can i help the family?

>> reporter: so said the cbs they approached the first responders to tell them about the piece of equipment. but in the general kchaos, no one seemed to hear them or understand what they might have. so eager to be of some use, the young navy men set to work directing traffic, watching as the crew struggled to free the family.

>> it was tragic. i mean all of us, all of us have kids, right?

>> yes we do.

>> reporter: helpless as she was, kelli wanted to take care of her kids as she dangled over the ravine. she grabbed milo's car seat and hung on as if she could save the baby from falling. her panic continued to mount. greg knuckles was told take care of her.

>> i told her i am going to do everything i could to help her with the kids. all my crew was doing everything they could. and to say things like that, there is an added pressure to yourself, you know.

>> reporter: there was little he could do to console kelli . with all that silence in the back seat. but then, finally, a reason to hope. sage, said something. it wasn't a lot. but of it was enough.

>> she said what? mom? something very short. i remember thinking "oh, my good she is alive." and she said "i can't breathe." a very smothered sound coming from her. i can't breathe.

>> reporter: relieved as she was sage was alive. kelli also believed her daughter was dying. and greg didn't want to tell her she was probably right.

>> i shouted at her, you are doing a good job, sage. be brave. and i think kelli said, yeah, they said you are doing good. just be brave. i think kelli and i both were kind of talking to her, you know encouraging her to hang on.

>> reporter: first responders believe that first hour after an accident is critical. as minutes tick by, blood loss , shock, fatigue can overwhelm or kill a patient. greg knew they had to hurry. but in this bizarre, precarious situation, he knew they couldn't hur hurry. the clock was ticking. the time, and gravity were working against them. coming up -- worried that the car is finally about to fall, the rescuers stop the rescue. leaving kelli terrified that sage was running out of time .

>> i said you can't stop. don't. you can't quit on her. she is not quitting in here. you got to keep going.

>> reporter: within minutes. everything would change.