Wed, Apr 04, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Los Angeles teen survives 12 hours in sewer system


A 13-year-old boy was rescued on Monday after falling into a river of sewage in Los Angeles, getting swept away and spending more than 12 hours in the city’s toxic and mazelike underground sewer system.

Jesse Hernandez had been playing on Sunday with other children on wooden planks over an access portal to the sewer system during a family outing at a Los Angeles park.

When a plank broke, Jesse fell about 8m and landed in fast-moving sewage, said Brian Humphrey, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The other children immediately notified adults, who called 911, initiating 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 sanitation crew rushed to the area and opened a manhole.

“The first thing they heard was ‘Help!’” sanitation department assistant general manager Adel Hagekhalil said.

The crew lowered down a hose to Jesse, who was about 3m deep in the pipe.

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, Humphrey said.

Hernandez immediately asked for a cellphone to call his family. A worker handed him a phone, and he called his mom.

The boy later told KNBC-TV that he was tired and a bit scraped up, but otherwise OK.

“I was praying to God to help me and to not die,” he said. “It was all quiet. You could just hear the water running through and you couldn’t see anything. It was dark.”

Video released by the city later in the day showed long dark marks on the sides of the dank sewage pipe, which was about 1m in diameter, where Hernandez’s fingers would have slid.

After an accident like Hernandez’s, rescuers say the likelihood of someone being found safe diminishes by the hour.

Hagekhalil said rescuers were thrilled at the outcome.

“They never gave up hope,” Hagekhalil said. “They wanted to bring Jesse back to his family.”

About 731m of pipe had been inspected when rescuers found Jesse less than 1.6km from where he disappeared.

In addition to the massive rescue effort involving more than 100 people, Humphrey credited Hernandez for his survival.

Not only did he survive getting swept through sewage moving at 24kph, he managed to find a pocket of breathable air and hang on until he was found, authorities said.

“Any subterranean location, particularly one that involves waste, can produce toxic gases — methane, hydrogen sulfide — so breathable air is a key element,” Humphrey said.

“The odds of someone falling into such a pipe and surviving are slim. The odds were not in his favor, and many would call it miraculous,” he said.

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