An 11-year-old boy who survived being sucked into a flooded stormwater drain has been reunited with his rescuers in Melbourne and gifted a new bike a week after the tumultuous ordeal.
Jake Gilbert was cycling with a friend in Altona Meadows last week when he rode across a submerged drain and was sucked 10 metres underneath a road.
Gilbert managed to grab onto the underside of a metal grate on the other side and keep his head above water before passer-by Damon Trewhella and off-duty SES member Justin Costello came to his aid.
“I remember grabbing onto the ledge … I tried to take a breath but I couldn’t because my head was still underwater,” Gilbert said on Thursday.
“So I breathed in a bit of water and then I basically got sucked through the tunnel, under the road and ended up in the grate, lodged in the corner. [The] first thing I did was said ‘Help’ because I thought my friend Kyle was dead because the last thing I saw was he fell over.”
Kyle, who was also washed off his bike at the same time, had managed to avoid being sucked into the flooded stormwater drain.
The SES member removed the bolts from the drain’s grate before the police officer prised the grate open – with Gilbert still desperately clinging to the underside by his fingernails. His head was just above the water before he was pulled to safety.
On Thursday, Gilbert and his family were reunited with the men who saved his life. He was presented with a donated bike and helmet after his own were damaged last week.
Gilbert said he was feeling “a lot better”. Immediately after he was rescued last week he exclaimed “I love you all!” before inquiring about his missing shoes.
“[I was] very much in shock and sort of thinking I can’t believe that happened to me and how have I survived,” he said on Thursday.
First Const Peter Ivory, who pulled the boy to safety, told reporters he knew it was a “dire situation” when he arrived to water surging over the top of the grate.
“The first thing I noticed was just Jake’s fingers in the grate, just trying to hold on for dear life,” he said.
“Funnily enough he found a little pocket in that drain to breathe out of so my first instinct was just to grab onto those fingers and let him know we’re here and we’re gonna get him out.
“He was constantly asking ‘How long is it going to be, how many seconds?’ I wanted to be straight with him and just said to him ‘Look mate it’s gonna be a couple of minutes but we’re gonna get you out, just hold on, everything’s going to be all right’.”
The boy’s father, Tony Gilbert, said his “heart stopped” when he received a call from the police, telling him what narrow escape his son had just had.
“It was just so terrifying … what a miracle,” he said.
“We certainly were lucky to have the right people there at the right time. We didn’t have any time to spare. The first 48 hours I didn’t sleep, I couldn’t sleep, to think we nearly lost our son. Life is too precious and too fragile, and to have a second chance like this is just extraordinary.”