Aussie dad with a hunch hired copter that found injured son

2018-01-16 20:23
Emergency services officers work to cut Samuel Lethbridge, 17, from the wreck of his car off the Pacific Highway south of Swansea in New South Wales state, Australia. (Michael Lethbridge via AP)

Emergency services officers work to cut Samuel Lethbridge, 17, from the wreck of his car off the Pacific Highway south of Swansea in New South Wales state, Australia. (Michael Lethbridge via AP)

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Canberra – The father of a teenager who spent 30 hours trapped in a car wreck in Australian woods said on Tuesday he had followed his intuition by hiring the helicopter that found his seriously injured son.

Samuel Lethbridge, 17, remained in a hospital in serious condition with multiple fractures two days after the crash.

His father, Tony Lethbridge, said he suspected his son may have been in a car wreck when he did not return by Sunday night to the family home at Lake Macquarie, after a Saturday night out with friends in Sydney, 130km to the south.

The father said he hired a helicopter on Monday morning and the car was spotted in scrub off a highway 20km from home.

Emergency services cut the boy from the wreck 30 hours after the accident, the father said.

"Everybody was saying: He's probably run away and all that kind of stuff. That's just not Samuel," Tony Lethbridge told Seven Network television.

The father recalled that a victim of an earlier crash in the area had died after not being found within five days. "I wasn't going to let that happen," he said.

'Terrified to ecstatic'

Lee Mitchell, the helicopter pilot and part-owner of Skyline Aviation Group at Lake Macquarie, said he discounted his usual helicopter hire rate of $956 an hour when the father explained his plight.

"He came in looking anxious and somewhat fatigued and said he needed helicopter bad," Mitchell told the AP of meeting Tony Lethbridge midmorning on Monday at the Port Macquarie airport.

The father said he had reported his son as a missing person to police and explained his fears of a car accident near home.

"He just said: 'I've got Aus$1 000 ($797) on me, will that be enough?' and we said: 'Yes, it would,'" Mitchell said.

The helicopter took off soon after with the boy's uncle Michael Lethbridge aboard, because the father was prone to air sickness, the pilot said.

The car was spotted within 15 minutes of flight, about 20m off the road, Mitchell said.

"It was fairly easy to spot from the air. It would've been near impossible to see from the road because it was well below the road level," Mitchell said.

The uncle was the first to reach the car.

"I really didn't want to go. I was scared of what I'd find. As I got closer I seen Sam's head move," Michael Lethbridge told Melbourne Radio 3AW.

"I went from being terrified to ecstatic in a couple of seconds," he said.

Mitchell was hovering overhead when the uncle signaled that the boy was alive.

"We were overwhelmed. It was a great outcome. We've done a lot of search and rescue stuff in previous years and they don't always turn out so favourably," Mitchell said.

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