When Tony Lethbridge didn’t hear from his son for almost 24 hours, he knew something was up. He went straight to police, but they seemed to be under the impression that 17-year-old Samuel had run away.
“They told us that he might have ran away, he could have done this or he could have done that and we just said, ‘It’s out of character; it’s not him,’ ” Tony said.
Police just told him and his wife to wait, but he had to do something.
Tony’s mind kept going back to a story from a few years ago. Another driver crashed his car along the same route on which Samuel was traveling.
By the time police found him five days later, it was too late — he had already died. “That was in my head, so I just thought bugger this I’m not going to sit around and wait,” Tony said.
“With the way the bush is there if a car goes in you’re not going to see it,” he continued. “The only way you’ll see it is from the air. And that’s what we did.”
With $1,000 in his pocket, Tony headed to the Lake Macquarie airport to hire a helicopter pilot. “I just rocked in there and said ‘Mate, I’ve got $1000 — I need you to search as much as you can,’ ” he recalled.
“He asked if he could, no – he said, he ‘needed a helicopter bad,’ ” Lee Mitchell, a helicopter pilot at the airport, said.
“He told us it was for missing son and said he believed his son had run off the road somewhere.”
Since the high winds canceled training flights int he area, Mitchell agreed to help Tony. He readied the helicopter as Tony went to get his brother.
Ten minutes after the helicopter left, they got a radio that they had found Samuel’s car on the side of the road. Tony got into his car and rushed to the location.
Michael Lethbridge, Tony’s brother, was dropped off by the helicopter to check on his nephew. He breathed a sigh of relief when he called Samuel’s name and saw him turn his head.
Samuel had been trapped in his car for almost 30 hours at that point. He had multiple broken bones, including his femur poking through the skin of his thigh.
“He spoke to me when I got down to the car,” Tony said. “I grabbed him and I said: ‘Mate, dad’s got you.’ “
“I’d love a drink,” Samuel responded. He’s certainly earned one after it’s all said and done.
“You wouldn’t have seen him if it wasn’t for the helicopter because I couldn’t see him from the road,” Tony said. “If the helicopter wasn’t hovering above, I would have never had found him.”
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