Like most parents, Tony Lethbridge loves his teenage son dearly and thinks the best of him. Unlike most parents, he was recently forced to make a risky decision to try to find his missing son.
Tony’s son Samuel was on his way back to his family’s home near Newcastle, Australia on Sunday morning, January 14. He had plans to meet his girlfriend around lunchtime at the house, but he never arrived, according to the The Sydney Morning Herald.
Tony and his wife Lee were out of town, but when they heard Samuel was missing, they drove straight home.
17-year-old Samuel went missing for 24 hours.
“We got back into Newcastle about 1:30am [Monday morning] and went straight to the police station,” Tony told The Sydney Morning Herald.
“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.”
While the police followed procedure and told Tony and Lee to wait, Tony knew he could not sit around and do nothing. He knew his child more than anyone, and he knew that Samuel was in danger.
Tony remembered an incident a few years ago along the same stretch of highway that his son had been driving on, where a driver had crashed and was not found for five days. All Tony could think about was that the man had died.
“That was in my head, so I just thought, ‘Bugger this, I’m not going to sit around and wait.’” While the authorities “put everything in motion,” Tony decided to go out and do something.
Tony decided to rent a helicopter to search for his son.
“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,” said Tony.
So the desperate father gathered about $800 and drove over to Skyline Aviation Group to rent a helicopter.
“I need you to search as much as you can,” Tony said to pilot Lee Mitchell, who could see Tony’s anxiousness.
“He told us it was for his missing son and said he believed his son had run off the road somewhere,” said Mitchell.
The company had cancelled flights for the morning because of strong winds, but they decided to help the father. Tony has trouble with flying, so his brother, Michael Lethbridge, took the ride—while Tony and Lee desperately waited for any information at the family home.
It turns out that Tony’s hunch was correct! A car fitting Samuel’s car description was seen off the Pacific Highway after only a 10-minute flight. Authorities were notified, and Tony jumped in his car and drove to the accident site.
The helicopter dropped Michael off near the car, which had been invisible from the road, and led him to the accident site.
“When I got there, I ran down there and it was just jubilation,” the uncle said. “It was unbelievable to find him there.”
When Michael saw Samuel’s head move, he immediately sent a text to Tony saying, “He’s alive.”
The 17-year-old had been trapped in his car for almost 30 hours with dehydration and serious injuries, including a broken thigh bone—but he had survived.
Emergency services soon arrived and cut the wrecked car open to get Samuel out.
“He spoke to me when I got down to the car,” Tony said. “I grabbed him and I said: ‘Mate, dad’s got you.'”
The teenager’s family expects a long recovery for their boy, and they started a fundraiser to help with expenses. But overall, they feel fortunate to have found him in time. According to Tony, Samuel is a “good, tough and very fit kid.”
According to Samuel’s sister Megan, the company Skyline Aviation Group later refunded Tony’s helicopter rental payment.
“It’s hard to believe that there is still some wonderful people in this world,” she wrote on a recent Facebook post.