When the call came in that assistance was needed to help locate a young boy who had fallen into the Los Angeles sewer system ECA members Pipe Tec Inc. sprang into action helping secure nothing short of an Easter miracle.

It was Easter Sunday evening and Pipe Tec president, Mike Ashker, got the call from the City of Los Angeles Emergency Sewer Repair Program notifying him that a young man had fallen into a sewer ventilation shaft near Travel Town in Griffith Park adjacent to the 134 Freeway. The City needed assistance in locating the child in its labyrinthine sewer complex – and fast.

Pipe Tec, as a subcontractor for ECA member company Bali Construction for this type of work, is on the resource list to be called upon for their expertise in employing closed circuit television (cctv) examination and inspection of the city’s water, sewer and stormdrain lines.

Typically used to evaluate repair and maintenance needs Pipe Tec’s equipment would now be used to help rescue a boy that had been playing on a sewer gas discharge shaft and was now pulled into a fast flowing sewer line below the city’s streets and freeways.

Pipe Tec’s operator on call for the weekend was Kevin Stewart who was dispatched to the situation.

Stewart headed to the company’s Baldwin Park yard to pick up the specialized van and equipment that would be sent into the lines in hopes of locating the young man. Stewart, along with Alexander Rodriguez of Pipe Tec, was directed by city engineer, Belal Tamimi to the entry point where the search would begin. Set up quickly began with the above ground surveillance equipment then dropping in the purpose-built pontoon boat mounted with cameras that would inspect the line for traces of the boy.

At the access point, which was on the city’s 48” North Outfall Sewer Line, it was discovered that the boy fell approximately 12 feet from the top of the structure into the bottom of the pipe which carried fast moving, toxic effluent up to 1 foot in depth.

The pontoon was soon moving swiftly through the line in hopes of discovering some trace of the boy.

The boat passed its first manhole 900 feet away and continued on. The hope was that the boy would come to a junction or structure in the line that would halt his progress so that rescuers could then go in and pull him out.

The boat would pass two more manholes before City of Los Angeles inspector, Scott Wood, noticed the image of hand prints well above the water line. This meant that the boy was alive and was able to reach out to the side of the pipe in an attempt to control his forward motion in the line.

The discovery was then communicated to Bureau of Contract Administration Senior Director, Bill Benson who then set in motion a rescue plan who, along with City of Los Angeles engineer Hugo Rico found a sewer junction structure on the city sewer map where the boy could have made it and been help that would keep him in one place.

Their best hope looked like a spot that could be accessed by a manhole in the middle of the 134 Freeway. So, a team from the city’s Sanitation Department immediately set out to do just that.

But, since the manhole cover was in freeway travel lanes, that the cover would easily come off was in question. Traffic was halted and diverted and workers attempted to access the shaft.

When the team arrived at the junction structure, the city crew prepared to open the cover, while Pipe Tec readied the camera float to continue the search. Just steps away, the city crew cleared the cover and the boy was there below. where the city crew extracted him and in the care of emergency responders.

After traveling almost one mile and enduring 12 hours in the line, Jesse Hernandez would come to be the Easter miracle that everyone had hoped for.

Pipe Tec’s, Kevin Stewart said of his experience “Helmets off to all of the first responders, we became one of you for eight hours. It’s a very difficult and stressful job. Thank you.”

By John Simpson, ECA Editor