Recordings of 911 calls after Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crashed at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday were released earlier this week and allude to a potentially lagged emergency response time for some of the injured passengers.
One of the calls released by the California Highway Patrol on Wednesday includes a woman telling emergency dispatchers that there are burned people on the runway who had not been attended to after nearly 20 minutes.
At one point she said, “We’re almost losing a woman here,” and tells the dispatcher that if help doesn’t arrive soon, the woman will likely die.
However, authorities are standing by response procedures, citing simultaneous incidents to contend with at the crash site.
Emergency responders were sent to the area to rescue passengers and crew, suppress a fire that started to burn in the Boeing 777 cabin and assess and transport injured passengers as necessary, San Francisco fire spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said.
“We don’t want to discount people feeling as though nothing was happening,” Talmadge said.
She said ambulances responded but because of the many needs, “this type of response has to be done in a coordinated fashion.”
Ambulances, unlike in movies or as the public may expect, do not go up to the aircraft, Talmadge said.
Instead, she said ambulances are held in a staging location and are put to use once they need to transport a victim to a hospital, Talmadge said.
She described ambulances as a “transport vehicle” and not where the main portion of treatment takes place.
She said emergency personnel arrived within minutes of dispatch calls and began search and rescue efforts along with triaging patients, which involves assessing victims’ injuries on the spot.
“Every passenger is a patient until determined otherwise,” Talmadge said.
Crews cannot leave a person behind to search for potentially more seriously injured individuals, she said.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee acknowledged that emergency responders had to be cautious when arriving at the crash.
“They were expecting a huge explosion,” Lee said.
He said, “It may have taken a little bit more time than we may have wanted to get to the passengers,” but he noted the circumstances were challenging.
“Ultimately I still have to say, and I think most of the emergency responders’ perspective is shared, that it could’ve been much worse, and I think everybody got to people as quickly as they could,” Lee said.
Sasha Lekach, Bay City News