GRIFFITH PARK (CBSLA) — A 13-year-old boy who went missing after falling into a sewage pipe on Easter Sunday was found alive and safe early Monday morning after spending the night in the city’s sewage system.
Jesse Hernandez was found in a maintenance hatch that opened up onto the westbound 134 Freeway at Riverside Drive just before 5:30 a.m., nearly 13 hours after he was first reported missing. The left lane, where it crosses under the 5 Freeway, was closed until 7 a.m. for the search and rescue wrap-up.
“It’s with happy hearts that all Los Angeles city agencies are able to state that we have found Jesse Hernandez,” Los Angeles Fire spokesman Capt. Erik Scott said.
Authorities say Jesse was talking and alert after he was found in a 4-foot wide pipe. He survived by finding an air pocket, authorities said.
“A part of this systematic search, the Bureau of Sanitation was opening a maintenance hatch to place a camera into there, and that’s where we located Jesse Hernandez, alive and talking,” Scott said.
He was immediately given a cell phone so he could call his family, he said.
The boy had been at Griffith Park with his family, who was holding its annual Easter picnic at the park. Jesse and his friends had reportedly climbed a chain-link fence and found an abandoned concrete building and were playing inside when a plank broke and opened up a hole to a sewer pipe.
The pipes are 4 feet in diameter and are filled with liquid at varying depths, between 2 feet and deeper, moving at 15 mph, and run parallel to the LA River and cross under freeways.
The search required expertise from across nine local agencies — including the fire department, the California Highway Patrol, park rangers, the Bureau of Sanitation and LADWP — to analyze the system and pinpoint any and all likely areas where Jesse could surface.
“The expertise of the Bureau of Sanitation was instrumental in this search,” Los Angeles Fire Dispatcher Margaret Stewart said in a statement. “From start to finish, this was an unprecedented team effort.”
The search for Jesse began at about 4:30 p.m. Sunday, and continued well into the night and into Monday morning.
About 2,400 feet (731 meters) of pipe had been inspected when rescuers found Jesse less than a mile from where he disappeared. He was taken to a hospital for a full evaluation and to be reunited with his family.
In addition to the massive rescue effort involving more than 100 people, Humphrey credited Jesse for his survival. Not only did he survive getting swept through sewage moving at 15 mph (24 kph), 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 called Jesse “a resolute young man.”
“He has tremendous inner strength,” Humphrey said. “It’s obvious he’s not a quitter.”
Also Sunday, an 11-year-old boy fell into a canal in Meadow Vista, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) northwest of Sacramento. He was found dead a couple hours later.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)