Nightly News   |  July 11, 2013

Chilling 911 calls released from Asiana crash

The first calls to 911 were from panicked passengers who had just escaped their burning plane. Arriving medics found 180 people had been injured. Now, the lap seatbelts used in the plane’s economy class seating are getting attention after some passengers sustained spine injuries. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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>>> we head to san francisco , where we're hearing the first 911 calls from the passengers on board the 777 aircraft in the moments after impact, after it had come to a halt on the runway and before it was consumed by fire. many passengers pulled out their phones, because they weren't getting the help they needed. tom costello remains at the scene tonight for us. good evening.

>> reporter: hi, brian. the ntsb has just said it has plans to start cutting up the fu fuselage up and removing it. the preliminary data suggests that the autopilot, auto throttle, and flight director systems all working properly at the time crash . the 911 calls? chilling, as passengers plead for medics and ambulances.

>> our airplane just crashed.

>> there are a bunch of people who still need help. we're more out on the field where planes are landing.

>> reporter: the first calls to 911 from panicked passengers who just escaped their burning plane.

>> we have people over here who weren't found and they are burned really badly. there is a woman out here on the street, on the runway, who is pretty much burned very severely on the head and we don't know what to do. she is severely burned, and she will probably die soon if we don't get help.

>> reporter: commanders kept ambulances back at first, concerned the plane might explo explode.

>> there are people laying on the tarmac with critical injuries injuries!

>> reporter: medics had their hands full. 180 injured. 70 crash victims and family members, escorted to the crash scene, each for their own reasons. the seat belts getting attention. spine surgeon operated on a 70-year-old victim from china who suffered damage from the spinal cord , sitting in the economy seats with lap seat belt on, like many passengers, slammed in the seat in front of him, but some passengers in business class had three-point seat belts like those used in cars. some of those passengers walked away unharmed. would shoulder belts have prevented the spine injuries?

>> i think it would have protected at least three of the four injuries that he has.

>> reporter: on the runway today, crews began removing the wreckage of flight 214 . sfo hopes to reopen 28 left sunday or monday.

>> they will have to sweep and clean the runway, repair the concrete and let's iighting.

>> reporter: back to the shoulder lapbelt. many airlines use them. not necessarily in the united states , use them when they want to make sure you are protected, but the seat in front of you are too far away to provide protection. many airlines don't provide an opportunity to brace on impact. the ntsb recommended to general aviation , use them, because they cut the risk of injury by 50%. not yet recommended for commercial aircraft . brian.

>> tom costello, thanks.

>>> lots of extreme and torrential weather. a muddy washout in colorado springs that happened last night. 20 or more vehicles