A 13-year-old boy who was rescued after spending 13 hours trapped in a network of sewage pipes said today he thanks God "for giving me another chance to live."
Jesse Hernandez was picnicking with his family in Los Angeles as part of an annual Easter tradition on Sunday when he went to play at an abandoned building.
After he stepped on a piece of wood that gave way, Jesse fell about 25 feet into the sewer pipe, the Los Angeles Fire Department said.
The pipes, which run parallel the Los Angeles River and cross under freeways, are 4 feet in diameter. They are filled with 2 feet or more of sewage that moves at 15 mph, officials said.
"Everything just happened fast and I fell," and landed in water, Jesse told ABC News today. "I thought I was gonna die but I didn't cause I got to stand up. ... It felt like a dream."
He said his phone fell out of his pocket while he was trying to use it for light in the dark tunnel.
Jesse stayed in one spot for 13 hours, keeping himself awake in the cold, wet, foul-smelling darkness.
As he waited for help, Jesse said he had both positive and negative thoughts. At some points "I thought it was gonna be OK," he told ABC News, while at other moments he was worried, "I was gonna die right here."
During the long and lonely wait, Jesse said he thought about his family.
"I didn’t want to lose them," he said. "I was pretty scared."
The fire department, working with the Bureau of Sanitation, frantically worked through the night and pinpointed the search area to a one-mile radius. Intelligence then narrowed the search down to a specific section of pipe, LAFD Capt. Erik Scott told ABC News.
Cameras used to inspect pipes for repair were employed as part of the rescue effort, the fire department said.
Early Monday morning one of the cameras saw handprints inside the pipe. Rescuers opened a maintenance hatch and spotted Jesse, said Adel Hagekhalil of the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation.
The teen said he screamed "help" and rescuers quickly lowered a rope to him.
Jesse said he first asked for a phone to call his mother and told her, "Mom, I'm OK. Where you at? Come pick me up!"
Jesse's stepfather, Arturo Ramirez, added that Jesse told his mother, "Mom, don’t get mad I lost my phone!"
Ramirez told ABC News he never gave up hope as he prayed through that long night.
A day after the rescue, Jesse said he thanks "God for giving me another chance to live."
He's also grateful to the crews who worked through the night, saying, "Thank you for working hard and finding me."
Scott said it appears Jesse traveled about three-quarters of a mile. He was found near the intersection of the 134 Freeway and the 5 Freeway.
Jesse was taken to a local hospital and later released.
Scott called it a "miracle" that the 13-year-old survived.
"We maintained hope, we maintained intensity and we did not give up," Scott said. "But I'll be honest, we did not think we would find a viable patient."
After word spread that Jesse had been found, Scott said he has never seen so many men hold back their tears and embrace each other.