LOS ANGELES, Calif. — A 13-year-old boy who fell down a sewer system on Sunday and was miraculously rescued after being trapped for more than 12 hours in two feet of toxic sewage says that he prayed to God throughout the ordeal.
“I was praying to God to help me and to not die,” Jesse Hernandez, 13, told KNBC-TV.
At around 4:30 p.m., Hernandez was spending time with some of his cousins during a family outing at Griffith Park in Los Angeles when they went through an opening in a fence and began playing on a concrete structure. Suddenly, a plank that had been covering a portal to the sewage system gave way.
“I was playing, and I didn’t see that it was a little piece of wood, and I stepped on it, and I just fell down,” he recalled to CBSLA.
The boy fell as much as 25 feet down the portal into the sewage pipeline, which was only four feet in diameter and contained sewage water traveling at an estimated 15 mph.
“I kept on going. The water took me,” Hernandez recalled.
He put his hands out on the side of the pipe to try to stop himself from being carried away further. The boy was soon able to find a place to stand up, and just stood there—for hours—waiting to be rescued.
“It was all quiet. You could just hear the water running through and you couldn’t see anything. It was dark,” Hernandez said.
Sometimes he felt hopeful, and sometimes he worried that he might not make it. He prayed to God to be found so that he would not die.
The other children ran and told the adults what had happened, who in turn called 911. More than 100 members of the Los Angeles Fire Department, with the aid of the Bureau of Sanitation, Engineering and Contract Administration, worked throughout the night to locate Hernandez, discussing possible catch points where the boy might have come to a stop.
“As the subterranean operational area became more expansive, dozens of downstream maintenance hatches were identified and personnel assigned to search them,” the Los Angeles Fire Department explained in a news release.
Using a special camera attached to a floatation device, they were able to locate Hernandez’ handprints on the side of the pipe, where he had tried to stop himself from drifting down the sewer.
Sanitation workers then hurried to the location—about two-thirds of a mile from where he fell in—and found Hernandez after lifting one of the manhole covers. He called out to those above for help.
“As the search grid expanded, a lane of the nearby 134 Freeway was closed to allow crews to access sewer maintenance hatches, where at 4:55 a.m., a pair of Sanitation Bureau employees discovered the teenager conscious and breathing amidst a torrent of sewage at the base of an 11 foot deep maintenance access site,” the Los Angeles Fire Department outlined.
Spokesman Brian Humphrey told the Associated Press that it is amazing that Hernandez survived.
“Any subterranean location, particularly one that involves waste, can produce toxic gases—methane, hydrogen sulfide—so breathable air is a key element,” he 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.”
“[The boy] has tremendous inner strength,” Humphrey remarked. “It’s obvious he’s not a quitter.”
Hernandez gave the glory back to God.
“I thank God for giving me another chance to live,” he said.