Saturday 25 May 2019

Boy (13) found 12 hours after being swept into maze-like sewage system

Jesse Hernandez (13) was rescued after falling into a river of sewage in Los Angeles (stock picture)
Jesse Hernandez (13) was rescued after falling into a river of sewage in Los Angeles (stock picture)

Jonas Winston

A 13-year-old boy was miraculously rescued after falling into a river of sewage in Los Angeles, being swept away and spending more than 12 hours in the city's toxic and maze-like underground sewer system.

Jesse Hernandez had been playing with other children on wooden planks over an access portal to the sewer system during a family outing at an LA park. When a plank broke, Jesse fell 7.5 metres and landed in fast-moving sewage.

The other children ran to sound the alert, starting a frantic and exhaustive 12-hour search of labyrinthine underground pipes using cameras propped on flotation devices.

Rescuers finally found Jesse after seeing images of handprints on a sewage pipe. A sewerage maintenance crew rushed to the area and opened a manhole.

"The first thing they heard was 'Help!'" said Adel Hagekhalil, assistant manager of the LA sanitation department.

Cameras showed where Jesse had traced an arch with his hands along the inside walls of the sewer.

The crew lowered down a hose to Jesse, who was more than three metres down.

"He caught onto the hose and was reeled back up," Mr Hagekhalil said.

Rescuers gave him immediate medical attention, including hosing him down to get rid of the sewage and cleaning out his eyes and nose with sterile saline.

The teenager immediately asked for a phone to call his family. A worker handed him a phone, and he called his mother.

"I was praying to God to help me and to not die," Jesse said.

"It was all quiet. You could just hear the water running through and you couldn't see anything. It was dark."

Video showed long dark marks on the sides of the dank sewage pipe, which was about a metre wide, where Jesse's fingers slid along as he tried to find a grip.

After an accident like Jesse's the likelihood of someone being found safe diminishes by the hour.

But he survived being swept through sewage at 24kmh and found a pocket of breathable air where he hung on until he was found.

"Any subterranean location, particularly one that involves waste, can produce toxic gases - methane, hydrogen sulfide - so breathable air is a key element," a spokesman said.

Irish Independent

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