Five boys aged 11 and 12 who became trapped in the New York City sewer system were told to “scream as loud as they could” to help firefighters locate them before being rescued.
The children walked for a quarter of a mile after crawling through a storm drain tunnel on Staten Island at about 6pm on Tuesday and then called 911 when they were unable to find their way back and were lost.
The fire department has now released audio recordings of the search operation, showing how emergency call handlers tried to pinpoint their location and then told them to scream once rescuers were near enough to hear them.
“Now you can scream as loud as you can,” a dispatcher said. “They want you to scream and yell.”
The boys were in the tunnel for about an hour, according to fire crews in the US city.
One of the firefighters used a rope to go down into the “tight space” and then crawled along.
Meanwhile, colleagues opened up manholes and entered the sewer system at various points, including one location where four of the children were found, with the fifth rescued “further down the line with an injured leg”.
In an earlier recording, one of the boys said: “We’re stuck in the sewer.”
A dispatcher responded by saying: “You’re stuck where?”
A second dispatcher, who said he was familiar with the area, then tried to establish exactly where the youngsters were.
“Once you went down, was the sewer left, right, straight – where was it?” the dispatcher asked. “I need you to guide me.”
‘Kids feared rescuers passed them’
When sirens were heard, the dispatcher told the boys to scream. At first the children feared that the rescuers were not stopping.
“It sounded like they went past us,” one boy said.
The dispatcher then assured the boys, saying: “They’re not going anywhere, we’re going to get you out of there.”
An emergency responder was heard saying “we might have hands on the kids right now”, and then, “we have all five children removed from the sewer”.
After the successful effort, the children and one firefighter were taken to hospital to be assessed. None had serious injuries.
Fire alarm dispatcher Moises Arias explained on Instagram: “I received the initial phone call; a child stated that he was stuck in a sewer on Staten Island. He was trying to give me a location but wasn’t quite sure of where he was.
“At that time my co-worker Dispatcher Marlind Haxhialiu, who is familiar with the area, was able to describe landmarks to them in order to pinpoint where the children entered the sewer system.
“We told them to start shouting for help. I kept trying to reassure them and keep them calm.”
Children were ‘very frantic’
Colleague Marlind Haxhialiu added on social media: “When I spoke to the kids, they were very frantic. I was asking them questions that would narrow down a specific location where they had entered the sewer system, based on my knowledge of that area.
“I was able to determine where they had entered.”
“The fire units were able to locate the children’s belongings at the entrance to the sewer. I’m glad everyone was able to work together to rescue these five children.”