“We walked and this lady starts to appear, really stumbling and waving her hand and yelling. It took a couple seconds to register,” said Elliott Stone, who was returning from a martial arts competition in South Korea. “Then, as I saw the condition she was in, I was like, oh my goodness.”
The woman collapsed, he said, and he and his family realized there might be more victims nearby, “so we started running, searching for more. I believe we ended up finding four people that were in the back in the rubble, all very bad condition. We stayed with them, comforted them, yelling for ambulances, fire trucks, anyone to come help.”
911 tapes recorded frantic callers, pleading for help.
“We’ve been on the ground, I don’t know, 20 minutes, a half hour,” said one woman. “There are people laying on the tarmac with critical injuries, head injuries. We’re almost losing a woman here. We’re trying to keep her alive.”
San Francisco Fire Department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said Thursday that some passengers who called 911 may not have immediately seen ambulances at the scene because they were dispatched to a nearby staging area as first responders assessed who needed to be taken to the hospital.
“There is a procedure for doing it,” Talmadge said. “You don’t cause more chaos in an already chaotic situation. You don’t do that with 50 ambulances running around all over the place.”
Within 18 minutes of receiving word of the crash, five ambulances and more than a dozen other rescue vehicles were at the scene or en route, in addition to airport fire crews and crews from San Mateo County and other agencies already on the scene, Talmadge said.
“Our response was immediate,” Talmadge said. “It’s not what you may see in the movies. That’s not how a real-life response is to a large-scale incident.”