Teenager survives 12 hours in Los Angeles sewer | News | DW | 03.04.2018
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Teenager survives 12 hours in Los Angeles sewer

A teenager has been rescued from the toxic sewers of LA in what emergency services said was an unlikely rescue. The operation involved a team of about 100 people who searched 730 meters of pipe.

A 13-year-old boy who fell into a Los Angeles sewer was rescued on Monday, after spending more than 12 hours in the city's toxic sewer system.

Jesse Hernandez had been playing on top of wooden planks that covered an access portal to the sewer during a family outing at a Los Angeles park on Sunday when one of the planks broke, causing him to fall almost eight meters into the sewer below.

The children he was playing with immediately notified adults, who called emergency services and a search through the labyrinth of underground pipes began.

Read more: The LA water residents don't dare drink

The sewer system carries liquid at varying depths at a speed of almost 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) per hour.

Emergency services used floating cameras to search 730 meters of pipes before they found images of handprints on a sewage pipe. A sanitation crew hurried to the area and opened a manhole, where they found Hernandez near a maintenance hatch under a road at 6 a.m. local time (1100 UTC/GMT).

The arc Hernandez made with his fingers that led rescuers to finding him (picture-alliance/AP)

The arc Hernandez made with his fingers that led rescuers to finding him

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

Hernandez told Los Angeles' KNBC-TV that he was tired and a bit scraped up, but otherwise okay. "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."

Brian Humphrey, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD), praised Hernandez for not only surviving being swept through the pipes but for being able to find a pocket of breathable air.

Read more: From noxious sludge to clean water

"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."

Hagekhalil said that the likelihood of someone being found safe in a situation like Hernandez's diminishes by the hour.

Hernandez was given medical assistance and called his family before being decontaminated and taken to a nearby hospital, the LAFD said.

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law/msh (AP, dpa)

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