When Tony Lethbridge’s teenage son didn’t return home one night, some people wondered if 17-year-old Samuel had run away. But Tony didn’t believe that his son would ever do that. Consequently, he hired a helicopter and began to search for the teenager from the skies.
The Lethbridges live in Blacksmiths, a suburb of Lake Macquarie, in the Australian state of New South Wales. Early one Sunday morning, Samuel Lethbridge was set to drive home to his parents’ house from Central Coast, about an hour away. He was due to meet his girlfriend there later that day.
But the teenager never showed up. And by Sunday afternoon, Tony’s other children alerted him that they hadn’t had any communication with Samuel. Tony then found out that Samuel’s girlfriend also hadn’t heard from Samuel, which was considered very odd.
Tony and his wife repeatedly tried to call their son, but he didn’t pick up. The couple were a couple of hundred miles away in the city of Canberra, but decided to drive home to find out what had happened. And their first port of call was the local police station, where they informed officers that their son was missing.
Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald, Tony said, “[The police] 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.’ They put all the things in motion and we waited and waited. They just told us to go home and wait.”
But Tony couldn’t stand the waiting, and as a result that night he didn’t sleep. By this point, no one had seen or spoken to Samuel in nearly 24 hours. Although his parents had been told to wait, Tony couldn’t shake the idea that his son had crashed his car somewhere on the drive from Central Coast.
With that in mind, a thought occurred to Tony. “The way the bush is [on that route], if a car goes in you’re not going to see it. The only way you’ll see it is from the air,” Tony recalled. “That was in my head, so I just thought b**ger this, I’m not going to sit around and wait.”
For this reason, Tony decided that the best way to find the car in the bush was with a helicopter. He drove to Lake Macquarie Airport with around $800, determined to hire one. Luckily, the airport is home to the Skyline Aviation Group, which offers helicopter tours, flying lessons and air services for the region.
In fact, the helicopter company had been forced to call off some training flights that morning. This was due to fierce winds that would make flying difficult for beginners. However, in light of the seriousness of the situation, the staff agreed to help Tony look for his son.
Unfortunately, Tony is afraid of flying, so he asked his brother Michael to board the helicopter instead of him. At the same time, Tony planned to wait at home for any news. In the event that Michael found something, Tony was ready to drive to the location and alert emergency services.
The helicopter had only been airborne for a matter of minutes when Michael spotted what appeared to be Samuel’s vehicle. It was hidden in the bush, away from the road. So he called Tony, who jumped in his car and began driving to the location.
In the meantime, the helicopter pilot dropped Michael near the car so that he could check it out. Then the helicopter took up position hovering over the site. This was done so that the emergency services and Tony could find the location more easily.
Michael approached the car, calling out to Samuel. But there was no response from the teenager, and his uncle was worried about what he would find. However, he then saw Samuel’s head move inside the car, and he knew that the boy was alive.
“When I got there, I ran down there and it was just jubilation,” Michael explained. “It was unbelievable to find him there. You wouldn’t have seen him if it wasn’t for the helicopter, because I couldn’t see him from the road.”
Nonetheless, Samuel was in bad shape. Aside from being dehydrated, he had broken both his arm and thigh bone, dislocated his elbow and suffered a few other fractures, too. The accident had trapped him in the car, pinning him under the dashboard, so he’d been unable to escape the wreckage.
Although emergency services were able to cut Samuel out of the car and take him to hospital, he still faces a difficult recovery. Following several scans, he underwent surgery to fix his more serious injuries, including the broken thigh bone. Thankfully, he is reported to be in a stable condition.
When Tony arrived at the crash site and found his son alive, he rushed down to the car. “He spoke to me when I got down to the car,” Tony explained. ”I grabbed him and I said, ‘Mate, Dad’s got you.’”
When Tony had initially offered the helicopter company $800 to help, Skyline Aviation had said that it would search for as long as was needed, regardless of the true cost. Following Samuel’s rescue, the Lethbridges paid their bill, but they were delighted when Skyline Aviation immediately returned the money.
“We recognize that the family will have many medical expenses in the future and wanted to contribute where we can. Under the circumstance we believe there has been enough stress on the family, and that any additional financial stress was unwarranted,” said the helicopter pilot.
Megan Lethbridge was so grateful for Skyline Aviation’s kindness that she posted on Facebook to let all of her friends know about it. “It’s hard to believe that there are still some wonderful people in this world,” she wrote. “I thank you again from the bottom of my heart.”