Teen miraculously survives 12 hours in Los Angeles sewage by finding air pocket to stay alive

A 13-year-old boy who was rescued after spending more than 12 hours in a California drainage ditch said Tuesday he found a pocket of breathable air to keep himself alive while authorities located his handprints on a pipe that led them to his location.

Jesse Hernandez was found early Monday after he plunged 25 feet into a 4-foot-wide pipe at Los Angeles’ Griffith Park that led to a mazelike underground sewage system. Jesse had been playing with other children on wooden planks during an Easter Sunday outing when the ground beneath the 13-year-old gave way, authorities said.

This image from video provided by the Los Angeles Fire Department shows firefighters working where a 13-year-old boy fell through through the small hole at right into a river of sewage in the Griffith Park area of Los Angeles. Jesse Hernandez was swept away Sunday, April 1, 2018, and spent more than 12 hours in the toxic environment of the sewer system before being rescued. (Capt. Erik Scott/Los Angeles Fire Department via AP)

Jesse Hernandez was rescued after spending more than 12 hours in the Los Angeles sewage system.  (Los Angeles Fire Department)

“I fell in and the water kept on pushing me. Then I stood up. I just stayed in this hole for the rest of the 13 hours,” Jesse told FOX11 LA. “It was dark. I couldn’t see anything.”


The children ran to the adults, who called 911 as Jesse was fighting to stay alive in the fast-moving sewage. Rescuers used cameras propped on flotation devices to locate the boy. They finally spotted handprints on a sewage pipe that eventually led them to Jesse’s location.  

"The first thing they heard was 'Help!'" said Adel Hagekhalil, assistant general manager of the sanitation department. "He caught onto the hose and was reeled back up.”

jesse hernandez

Jesse Hernandez said he found a pocket of breathable air to help him stay alive as rescuers searched for him.  (Los Angeles Fire Department)

Jesse was about 11-feet deep in the pipe. He was found less than a mile from where he fell. By then, authorities had inspected about 2,400 feet of pipe.

“I thought I was going to die,” the boy told FOX11. “But I didn’t.”

Rescuers gave him immediate medical attention, including hosing him down to get rid of the sewage and cleaning out his eyes and nose with sterile saline. Jesse immediately asked for a cellphone to call his family. A worker handed him a phone, and he called his mom.

"They never gave up hope," Hagekhalil said. "They wanted to bring Jesse back to his family."

This photo from remote camera video provided by the Los Angeles Department of Sanitation shows where 13-year-old Jesse Hernandez traced an arc with his fingers, the small arc at center left, as he was swept through a 4-foot diameter pipe after falling into a hole in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, Monday, April 2, 2018. Hernandez spent more than 12 hours in the toxic environment of the sewer system before being rescued. (Los Angeles Department of Sanitation via AP)

Rescuers found handprints on a sewage pipe that ultimately led them to Jesse Hernandez's location.  (Los Angeles Department of Sanitation)

Brian Humphrey, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department, said the odds of finding a person alive in the same scenario are usually “slim.”

“The odds were not in his favor, and many would call it miraculous,” Humphrey said. "He has tremendous inner strength…It's obvious he's not a quitter."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Katherine Lam is a breaking and trending news digital producer for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @bykatherinelam