An off-duty Texas fire department official who helped pull the captain from the cockpit of Delta Flight 1141 said he saw a few survivors coming through the cracks in the front of the plane before he was able to reach the site himself.
The official, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Deseret News that as he approached the plane, he saw about 50 people still strapped in their seats. He said the plane itself wasn't damaged as much by the impact of the crash as by the fireball that followed."The rear sections where the flight attendants sat were all twisted and burned - I saw several twisted bodies back there."
As he approached the cockpit, he said it was skewed "about 60 degrees to the right," but two of the three crew members in that section apparently were able to escape and walk away from the crash.
"I met a four-striper (captain) and a three striper (flight engineer) walking away from the crash in tattered clothes . . . they were walking away with some people that had been on the plane. They just kept turning around, looking at the airplane."
The official, who was still in uniform from working a previous shift, said he and others were able to help free a man he believes was the head captain remaining in the cockpit.
"I was hanging upside down in the lavatory trying to get him out of the cockpit. The captain was the last survivor off the plane - he's the only survivor I know of that was extricated."
He said though the cockpit was twisted, there was just enough room to open the front left door - which was just off the cabin in the first-class section. He said it looked as though survivors had opened the door from the inside.
The official, who is also a pilot and a flight instructor, said the right wing of the plane was sheared off but that the left wing was still intact.
"It appears the right wing was left a considerable distance from the plane. I think that if the other wing had come off, the plane would have skidded and they wouldn't have had such a large fire." He speculated that fuel carried in the left wing contributed to the intensity of the blaze.
"I don't know if anyone got out of that rear section. I saw them pulling people out of the hole in the front (of the plane)." he said. "There was no fire damage in the cockpit area - (the damage) was from the first class section back."
He estimated the crash occurred 300 yards off the end of the runway. The plane was heading south on takeoff, and he said the impact of the crash turned it more than 90 degrees, so it rested facing northwest.
As he approached the scene, the official said, he realized the plane had crashed and "I ran back and got a camera out of my truck."
After leaving the scene of the accident, the official - who spoke with the Deseret News from the newsroom of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram - took his film to the paper for developing.