A 13-year-old boy who spent about 12 hours lost in the sewer system after he fell into a pipe in Griffith Park had a chance Friday to thank the city employees, police officers and firefighters who were involved in his rescue, including the two sanitation workers who lifted him to safety.
“I’m so thankful for everybody who was involved in my rescue,” Jesse Hernandez said during a news conference outside City Hall East, surrounded by the dozens of men and women who helped rescue him, as well as Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Councilman David Ryu and Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas.
He added, “I thank God for giving me another chance to live.”
The boy’s ordeal began about 4:30 p.m. Sunday at 5254 W. Zoo Drive, near the train museum in Griffith Park, where he was spending Easter with his family. Jesse and some friends had climbed a chain-link fence around an abandoned maintenance shack and were playing on it when a plank broke apart and he fell into a sewage system opening that led to the Los Angeles River.
The teen was found early Morning morning after a frantic search involving firefighters and workers from the Los Angeles Public Works and Water and Power departments, Los Angeles police and California Highway Patrol officers, and park rangers.
“Because we have the best trained and most talented workers anywhere, who brought their skills and training to this emergency, to the search, we got the miracle. Today Jesse is safe and sound,” Garcetti said.
Ryu, who represents the Griffith Park area, said the city would be working to identify any similar hazards to what Jesse encountered.
“No one should ever have to experience what Jesse and his family went through. No one. Which is why I’m working very closely with the mayor’s office, the city attorney and my colleagues on the city council to identify, assess, better secure or demolish any other similar facilities in the city sewer system,” Ryu said.
Rescuers dropped cameras that could float along the bottom of pipes where the boy fell. The network of sewage pipes is a closed system that required a detailed search on each possible pathway.
According to the LAFD, the pipes are four feet in diameter, and are filled with liquid at varying depth of two feet and deeper, sometimes moving at 15 mph. The pipes parallel the Los Angeles River and cross under freeways.
Through the video camera feed, officials eventually spotted a handprint on a wall and some other markings that appeared to have been made by the teen, which helped them narrow down where he might be.
He was eventually found when two sanitation workers, Michael Adams and Kurt Boyer, opened a hatch on a lane of the Ventura Freeway. They spotted him in a pipe that was about 11 feet deep and 42 inches in diameter and were able to lower a hose down and pull him out.
“We were ecstatic that we were able to find him. It was a lot of hard work. You know, everybody in sanitation did it, it wasn’t just us two,” Adams said.