Monday 9 December 2019

Aussie dad 'with a gut feeling' hired helicopter to find missing son

Samuel Lethbridge is recovering in hospital (Photo: Facebook)
Samuel Lethbridge is recovering in hospital (Photo: Facebook)

Rod McGuirk

The father of a teenager who spent 30 hours trapped in a car wreck in Australian woods said he had followed his intuition by hiring the helicopter that found his seriously injured son.

Samuel Lethbridge, 17, remained in intensive care in a hospital with multiple fractures two days after the crash.

Tony Lethbridge said he suspected his son may have been in a car wreck when he did not return by Sunday morning to the family home at Lake Macquarie, after a Saturday night out with friends in the nearby city of Newcastle.

The teen had dropped off a friend about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from home early on Sunday morning before he vanished, the father said.

The 51-year-old father-of-three hired a helicopter on Monday morning and the car was spotted in scrub off a highway 20 kilometres (12 miles) from home.

Emergency services cut the boy from the wreck 30 hours after the accident, the father said.

"When I saw the police, they thought he'd run away. I said that's not Samuel. When he doesn't show up or phone, something's seriously wrong," Tony Lethbridge told the AP.

"I understand that they've got a lot to do and they hear this every day, but I took matters into my own hands and was thinking all night that tomorrow morning, I'm just going to get a helicopter and go looking for him because we're running out of time - it's been long enough," he added.

Lee Mitchell, pilot and part-owner of Skyline Aviation Group at Lake Macquarie, said he discounted his usual helicopter hire rate of 1,200 Australian dollars ($956) an hour when the father explained his plight.

"He came in looking anxious and somewhat fatigued and said he needed a helicopter bad," Mr Mitchell said.

While Australians rarely pay for search and rescue operations, Tony Lethbridge, who works in a mail sorting room of the national postal service, has no complaints.

"It's priceless. If it's (Australian dollars) $1,000 I've got to pay to get his life, I'm OK with that," the father said.

PA Media

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