While his frantic father raced alongside, a 7-year-old boy was swept two miles by the swift-running water of the Pacoima Wash flood control channel Tuesday until he floated unconscious into a spreading basin.
The boy, German Gonzalez of Los Angeles, was in critical condition at Childrens Hospital Tuesday night after the mid-morning incident.
The boy had accompanied his parents to a swap meet site neighboring the wash near the San Fernando Airport and was "playing boats in the channel, using sticks," with two other children when he slipped into the water, San Fernando Police Lt. Don Rivetti said.
Water Shallow, Swift
Although the water in the center channel was only 12 to 18 inches deep, it was moving about 15 m.p.h., according to the county Department of Public Works. "The cement is very slippery with moss, and there's nothing to hold on to," Rivetti said. "If you fall in, you just can't stand up again."
German's father, Perfecto Gonzalez, watched as the boy was carried away by the water and ran along the bank inside a high wire fence that encloses the channel.
"He ran the entire length of the wash," Rivetti said. "He thought he could get in front of the child, but the water was running faster than he could run.
"Friends and bystanders from the swap meet joined in, and some even jumped in the water and also had to be pulled out shortly afterward by our officers. That complicated the matter."
The current carried the boy under the intersection of Interstate 5 and the Simi Valley Freeway. He washed up near Devonshire Street in a pond behind a debris-catching dam leading into a spreading ground, where water gathered in the channel is soaked into the earth to replenish underground water supplies.
Officer Jumps In
The pond, or "forebay area," is about 600 feet long, 50 feet wide and 3 feet deep, said Gary Hartley, assistant division engineer for the Department of Public Works.
Police Officer Bruce Martin, who had joined in the chase, jumped into the pond and yelled for help, bringing public works employees to the scene. Martin and maintenance worker Jake Guttierez retrieved the unconscious boy, who was face down, and floated him to the bank on a discarded sofa they found in the water.
After attempts to revive him failed, the boy was flown in a Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter to Childrens Hospital, where he was revived.
Hartley said the public works department was trying to find out how the boy reached the channel, which he said is "totally secured" by a high wire fence.