Tony Lethbridge couldn’t sleep. It was early Monday morning and it had been 24 hours since anyone had heard from his 17-year-old son, Samuel.
It was out of character and Tony had a gut feeling something was wrong.
Australian police told Tony and his wife that their son might have ran away and to go home and wait.
“I just couldn’t get it out of my head that he’d crashed somewhere,” Tony said.
Samuel had been driving back from the Central Coast in New South Wales around 6:30 AM on Sunday. He had messaged his girlfriend and arranged to meet her after she finished work, around lunchtime.
He never arrived. He never called.
As Tony’s mind raced, he recalled an accident from a few years earlier along the same stretch of highway that he believed Samuel would have been driving on. That driver wasn’t found for five days.
“And he’d passed away,” Tony said. “That was in my head, so I just thought bugger this I’m not going to sit around and wait. With the way the bush is there, if a car goes in you’re not going to see it. The only way you’ll see it is from the air. And that’s what we did.
“I thought, I’m going to get a helicopter no matter what.”
Tony walked into the Lake Macquarie Airport at 9 AM.
“I just rocked in there and said, ‘Mate, I’ve got $1000 – I need you to search as much as you can’.”
Within 10 minutes of taking off, the flight crew spotted a car just off the Pacific Highway that fit the description of Samuel’s vehicle.
“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.”
Trapped in his vehicle for nearly 30 hours, Samuel was dehydrated and suffering serious injuries.
“He spoke to me when I got down to the car,” Tony said. “I grabbed him and I said: ‘Mate, dad’s got you’.”
Emergency services arrived on the scene and had to cut the vehicle open to pull Samuel from the wreckage. He was taken to John Hunter Hospital with a broken arm, broken thigh bone, dislocated elbow and various small fractures.
He is expected to make a full recovery.