“Cops Returned to Crashed Plane Until Fire Drove Them Out”
“Lieutenant Caltagirone and Officer Cunningham were the only San Francisco police to enter the cabin of Asiana Flight 214 (020560) after it tore apart in a crash landing July 6, killing two of its 307 passengers and crew.
Cunningham, without protective gear, entered the fuselage through a door close enough to the ground for him to reach.
Caltagirone entered the plane through the same opening as Cunningham and joined in freeing passengers from their seats and clearing the aisles for rescue efforts.
That’s when Caltagirone saw the fire. Firefighters were trying to keep it at bay, but it was growing.
One passengr …still on the plane…was trapped under debris and couldn’t move… The smoke thickened as Cunningham, Caltagirone and the firefighters struggled to breathe as they carried the man out on a stretcher.
They could hear the sound of crackling flames intensify. They knew the fire was getting worse. Then Cunningham saw fuel pouring out of a wing of the plane.
…firefighters…ordered everyone remaining to get out.
Word came that some people might be unaccounted for. While Cunningham said he believed the cabin was empty, he went back in to check. Caltagirone followed.
They could tell the fire was picking up its pace. They heard what sounded like glass breaking inside; outside, the shell of the plane was burning. They ran, the last to leave the aircraft.
At home, Cunningham spoke to his wife, Roberta, for a few minutes about the crash. He told her he didn’t want to say much. He and his 18-month-old daughter watched the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.
“I walked back to her bedroom and put her in the rocking chair, and I remember smelling her hair because she had just taken a nice bath,” Cunningham said. “She smelled nice and fresh, and I just relaxed.”
He fell asleep holding her.”