When his son went missing for 29 hours, Tony Lethbridge simply refused to believe that he had run away. He knew something had gone incredibly wrong and he was not willing to let his instinct tell him anything else.
So like any father who loves his kid, Tony didn’t want to sit and wait for news of his son’s whereabouts. Instead, he took drastic action.
A father’s instinct is never wrong
The miracle rescue only happened because Tony followed his instincts, and never gave up. When the police asked him questions, as they were trying to figure out why Sam was missing, he told them his son could not have run away.
The police officer actually asked us what we think, because we said it’s not Sam. My wife actually said, ‘I think he’s in a ditch or something, bleeding out.’
The reality was actually pretty close: Sam was laying in his wrecked car in a bank off the Pacific Highway at Crangan Bay, south of Newcastle.
Sam had dropped off a friend in Wyoming on the New South Wales Central Coast and was on his way to meet his girlfriend when he crashed off the road and landed in the bank.
He was left pinned by his vehicle, injured, crushed and bleeding – and he stayed that way for a staggering 29 hours, trying his best to stay alive.
Sam hoped someone would notice he was gone and find him. His parents soon did.
When he wouldn’t answer his texts, they knew something had gone wrong
Both parents frantically texted him, but there was no answer. Finally, they called the police and his mom told them her fears.
“I don’t know if she’s psychic, or whatever, but that’s exactly what was happening,” Tony told A Current Affair. “I kept thinking — he’s shot off into the bush, they’re not gonna find him.”
Tony couldn’t get the worst scenario out of his mind either.
“An accident happened there about five years ago … It stuck in my mind … I thought, ‘I can’t leave him out there without looking,” he said in the days after Sam’s rescue.
“His mates were telling us he was a bit tired when he dropped his mate off on the central coast so [a crash] was the only thing we could think of.”
Sam’s mother said she was petrified. “I wanted to be positive with all my heart,” she said.
But my brain was telling me this may not have the happy ending. I said to Tony, ‘How are they going to find his car if he’s in the bush?’
So, Tony hired a helicopter
Eventually, Tony decided to hire a helicopter to continue the search, convinced by his intuition. As it turns out, he was right.
“When I saw the police, they thought he’d run away,” the dad told The Associated Press. “I said, ‘That’s not Samuel.’ When he doesn’t show up or phone, something’s seriously wrong.”
I understand that they’ve got a lot to do and they hear this every day, but I took matters into my own hands and was thinking all night that tomorrow morning, I’m just going to get a helicopter and go looking for him because we’re running out of time.
He went to Skyline Aviation Group to rent a helicopter, with only $800 in his wallet.
“He came in looking anxious and somewhat fatigued and said he needed a helicopter bad,” pilot and co-owner Lee Mitchell recalled. Tony asked if the cash he had on him would be enough, “and we said, ‘Yes, it would,'” Mitchell said.
Soon enough, they came across signs of the wreckage on the highway, in the suspected area.
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Sam hoped someone would notice he was gone
Tony feared the worst when he saw the wreckage. “I was very scared,” he said. “I’d take two steps forward and I felt like taking it was terrible.
I felt I had no choice, and I was getting closer, I just had to go down, and I’d seen a bit of car, I’d gone past one big bush and I’d go a little further.
The first indication that Sam was alive was the reaction from his uncle when he reached the car. He looked back at the chopper and jumped with joy. “He must have heard the blades. I saw Sam’s head move… and that was a different story. Then that was great.”
Tony shared the moment he found his son. “I said ‘Yeah, Dad’s here, mate’,” he said. “I grabbed him and said, ‘I found you’.
Finally, Sam was rescued, and soon after, the family chatted with A Current Affair, about the search and what Sam went through whole trapped and alone.
“The first thing he said was along the lines of, ‘I’d love a drink!’ … and I thought, ‘Well I can’t give you a drink mate, because I know you’re headed for surgery!’”
No one would have seen him
“He’d been there all night. No one could see him from the road, no one at all,” NSW Ambulance superintendent Jeff Atkins told the media.
It makes Tony’s actions even more amazing because it made the difference between life and death. Once freed, Sam was taken to an ambulance.
“There’s just so many things that went right,” said Michael Lethbridge, Sam’s uncle. “The car landed on its wheels. If the car had been upside down, my biggest concern would have been spotting it. It would have been much more difficult because obviously the underside’s not white.”
It’ll be a long road to recovery, but Sam survived, all thanks to his father’s incredible instinct.
Trust your instincts
Most of the time, we can tend to doubt or question our instincts–and with good reason. Many things can cloud our judgment and it’s important to think objectively, especially before making decisions that could lead to potentially dangerous outcomes.
However, when it’s a situation like Tony’s, trusting your instinct can make the whole difference. He didn’t hesitate to do everything in his power to find his son–and it made all the difference.
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