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Boy speaks out after sewer pipe rescue: ‘I was just praying to God to help me and to not die’

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Jesse Hernandez, 13, was rescued early Monday morning after spending 12 hours in the city’s sewer system.
(Los Angeles Fire Department)

During the 12 hours he spent in the city’s vast network of sewer tunnels, Jesse Hernandez was praying.

“I was just praying to God to help me and to not die,” Jesse, 13, said in an interview with NBC News. “I was scared.”

The boy, who was rescued early Monday morning after a frantic overnight search, told the station the tunnels were dark and quiet.

“You could just hear the water running through,” he said. “You couldn’t see anything.”

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Jesse was spending Easter with his family at Griffith Park when he fell into the sewer system while jumping on wooden planks in an abandoned, concrete building that was decommissioned by the city’s Bureau of Sanitation years ago, authorities said. One of the planks broke, and the teen plunged 25 feet into a 4-foot-wide pipe.

The accident triggered a massive search effort as crews used remote video cameras and to find the boy in a maze of 6,400 feet of underground pipes in a network that parallels the L.A. River and crosses under freeways.

The search was a race against time as “survivability diminishes in that toxic environment,” Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Erik Scott said.

The search ended happily Monday morning after sanitation workers removed a manhole cover and spotted the boy peering back at them.

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“Once I pulled the lid off the manhole cover he was just like right there,” the worker told police in a recorded call.

Jesse underwent decontamination and was taken to a hospital for a medical examination. He was released late Monday morning.

alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com

Twitter: @AleneTchek


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