A teenager is “very lucky to be alive” after his father hired a helicopter on a hunch which then discovered the youth trapped in his car at the side of the road.
Tony Lethbridge said he feared the worst when his son Samuel, 17, did not return to their home in Lake Macquarie, New South Wales, on Sunday following a night out with friends in Sydney the previous evening.
Mr Lethbridge’s decision to hire a helicopter on Monday morning paid off when Samuel’s car was seen in scrub off a road 12 miles from home.
The teen was cut from the wreck around 30 hours after the accident. He remains in hospital in a serious condition, having suffered multiple fractures.
NSW Ambulance Inspector Jeff Atkins said Samuel was “very lucky to be alive”.
Mr Lethbridge told Seven Network television that people initially suggested his son had run away, but he thought “that’s just not Samuel”.
He said a previous case involving a car crash victim who died after not being found for a number of days spurred him to take action.
“I wasn’t going to let that happen,” Mr Lethbridge said.
Lee Mitchell, a helicopter pilot and part-owner of Skyline Aviation Group, said he discounted his usual hire rate of A$1,200 (£693) when Mr Lethbridge came in and explained his situation.
“He came in looking anxious and somewhat fatigued and said he needed a helicopter bad,” Mr Mitchell said of meeting Tony Lethbridge at Port Macquarie airport.
The father said he had reported his son as a missing person to police and explained his fears he had been involved in an accident.
“He just said: ‘I’ve got A$1,000 (£577) on me, will that be enough?’ and we said: ‘Yes, it would,'” Mr Mitchell said.
The helicopter took off soon afterwards with Samuel’s uncle Michael Lethbridge on board, because the father often suffers from air sickness, the pilot said.
The car was spotted within 15 minutes, around 20 metres from the road.
“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,” Mr Mitchell said.
The uncle was the first to reach the car and said he feared what he would find.
“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.
Mr Mitchell was hovering overhead when the uncle gave him a signal that Samuel was still 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,” Mr Mitchell said.