Urban exploring is about as close to treasure hunting as the modern day person can get. Kids, teenagers, and even adults love dusting off flashlights and heading into abandoned buildings and desolate parks to see what they can find. But the fun comes with serious risks.
One day, a Los Angeles teenager and his friends explored an abandoned building not far from where their families picnicked. After a near-fatal mistake, however, the boy could only helplessly wait while every public service unit in the city worked overtime to save his life…
On Easter Sunday, 2018, Jesse Hernandez and his family picnicked in a park near the famous Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles California. But the 13-year-old grew restless, and, at 4:30 p.m., he and some friends wandered from their families…
The small group climbed over a chain-link fence and then saw the afternoon’s entertainment: an abandoned maintenance shed. The perfect subject, the boys knew, for an urban exploration.
The boys scampered onto the abandoned shed, curious what “treasures” might be hidden inside. For the teenagers, it was the perfect way to pass a holiday. Until Jesse stepped on a rotting wooden plank…
The plank covered a hole, below, in the shed’s roof, and it snapped when Jesse put his weight on it. In a second, the teenager fell out of view of his friends and plunged feet first into the water below.
Jesse fell 25 feet into a river of sewage flowing through the complex Los Angeles sewer system. He couldn’t see a thing. He heard only running sewage. Then, the fast-moving waste swept him off his feet and carried him away.
Where, exactly, the sewage took him, Jesse couldn’t say, but he rode the current for some time. As the pipes narrowed, he panicked. Fearing he’d get stuck in the narrow pipe, he stood up. And then just waited.
Standing in one spot, all he could do was pray. He hoped that, somehow, word of his fall reached the right people. Luckily, someone alerted rescue workers, who rushed to the abandoned shed.
Authorities arrived on the scene quickly, but they knew that finding Jesse would be hard. The sewer system “is a maze,” Los Angeles Police Sargent Bruno La Hoz said. “We don’t know where the drain pipe goes to.” And it got worse…
Wherever Jesse ended up, he was likely waist deep in toxic sewage. So the fire department, the city police, the Department of Water and Power, and more groups came together to find him. The first step?
After examining maps of the sewer systems, rescue workers highlighted 6,400 feet of pipe Jesse could’ve ended up in (given where he entered the sewer system). Then, they brought out the fancy equipment.
With cameras used in sewage pipe repair work, rescue workers scoured the tunnels, looking for any sign of Jesse. They found nothing.
But then, just before 5 a.m.—12 hours after the search for Jesse began—cameras picked up streak left behind by a teenager-sized hand along the curve of the sewer pipes. That narrowed the search area significantly.
With a better sense of where Jesse ended up, rescue workers lifted a manhole cover not far from the hand streaks. From there, they knew, they’d just have to follow the current to find the boy.
With the sun peaking over the horizon, sanitation workers prepared to lower another camera into the sewers—but then they heard something that changed their plans…
The Journal Post
See, when the sanitation workers lifted the manhole cover, Jesse saw a bit of light bleed into the darkness. Hopeful for the first time since his fall, Jesse shouted for help.
The sanitation workers heard the boy’s calls for help and put away the cameras. Instead, they lowered a hose 11 feet into the manhole. Jesse grabbed on, and the rescue workers pulled him out. He was free (and three-quarter miles from where he’d started)!
Los Angeles Times
On the solid ground for the first time, Jesse hardly caught his breath before asking for a cell phone to call his family. Rescue workers checked Jesse’s vitals as the teenager spoke with his justifiably hysterical mother.
From there, Jesse landed in the hospital where doctors examined him. Amazingly, even after 12 hours trapped in a toxic Los Angeles sewer, Jesse left the hospital later that day, unscathed and able to celebrate with the family he left picnicking.
Hans Gutknecht / Los Angeles Daily News
After Jesse went home for some much-needed sleep, rescue workers shared their admiration of the teenager. “He has tremendous inner strength,” said L.A. Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey. “It’s obvious he’s not a quitter.”
Hans Gutknecht / Los Angeles Daily News
Check out the video below to see just how complex those Los Angeles sewer systems can be. No doubt, Jesse lucked out when the hardworking public servants of Los Angeles launched the rescue effort!
Imagine the strength required for Jesse to sit in that smell, in the dark, with no idea if anyone was looking for him. Thank goodness teamwork brought him home!
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