13 Investigates: Calls for help reveal concern before stage collapse

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INDIANAPOLIS - Chilling calls for help as rescuers are called to the scene of the state fair stage collapse. 

13 Investigates requested all emergency radio calls from the night of the state fair tragedy in August. Tonight, we hear them for the first time, revealing the concern emergency crews had for the safety of fair-goers, as a deadly storm approached.

Dark clouds and lightning in the sky. And now, for the first time, confirmation that State Police were awaiting the storm's arrival.

They say so, in exclusive emergency dispatch tapes obtained by 13 Investigates, capturing Marion County dispatch communications with emergency responders, moments before the stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair. The warnings began at 8:38 p.m., 5 minutes before the collapse.

"State Police 13 C, looks like about 30 minutes or less before weather comes in," a man's voice said, in the exchange before another countywide alert is put out.

"All units, all units... severe thunderstorm warning until 9:45 for Marion County, until 9:45. Use your best judgment and find shelter when needed," emergency responders are told.

Two minutes later, a voice of concern takes on the airwaves. Thousands of people were still awaiting the Sugarland concert, standing right in front of the stage. That's when a call inquiring whether fans have been moved to safety comes through.

"Have they released fans from the grandstand yet?  I have no information on that I will check and advise," is the response.

Three minutes later, a lone radio call of sheer panic.

"The stage has collapsed," someone shouts over the radio to dispatch, breathing heavily. "Control, grandstand EMS, the grandstands are gone! Fire control to grandstand EMS, I'm calling a mass casualty," the voice says communicating the gravity of the situation.

That call came at 8:43 p.m.  Seconds later, reports of the human toll begin trickling in.  Some victims were trapped, others were going into shock. Those critically injured were considered code reds. The walking wounded, were labeled greens and yellows. The dead were tagged in black.

"Multiple reds, multiple reds.  Unknown blacks.  I need everything to the grandstand. I have at least one with a head injury," said a responder seeking help.

At 8:48, with heavy rain and more wind expected, emergency crews on the scene began a scramble to evacuate, communicating with dispatchers what was taking place on the ground.

"Unknown the type of weather. We may need to expedite evacuating the rest of the major grandstands.  Copy that. Working with State Police on evacuations at this time."

And then the first descriptions of the chaotic scene, the devastation, and the need for help in a hurry

"The situation is this: the stage framework and the speakers have collapsed onto the rows of chairs just in front," said one responder, describing the Sugar Pit.

Dispatch asked:  "Can you estimate the total quantity of patients?"

"A lot," came the reply.

Dispatch:"Do you think I need to start more than 5 units?" he followed up, asking about ambulances.

"Absolutely," said the emergency worker, indicating the magnitude of the injured.

And then what everyone feared.  Just minutes later, a first responder delivered grim news.

"I've got one behind the stage, black tag done," he said.  It was the first reported fatality, just eleven minutes after the collapse.

And that was all before 9 p.m. August 13th, within 20 minutes of the collapse.

We've been combing through hours of that chilling audio tape, detailing how the city responded to one of the deadliest tragedies in decades.

We'll reveal what happened in that critical first hour.  What worked, and what didn't on Eyewitness News Thursday.