LASD Search and Rescue team returns from Turkey: 'Not a common language but ... a common purpose'

Rob McMillan Image
Friday, February 17, 2023
LASD Search and Rescue team returns from aid operation in Turkey
Members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Search and Rescue team returned to Southern California after a weeklong rescue and recovery mission in Turkey.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Search and Rescue team returned to Southern California after a weeklong rescue and recovery mission in Turkey in the aftermath of the the devastating magnitude 7.8 earthquake.

"Everybody knew going in it was going to be a massive disaster of epic proportions and it was," said Mike Leum, the Search and Rescue team's assistant director. "A lot of times there was not a common language but there was a common purpose. Just through hand gestures, everybody knew what needed to be done and we rolled up our sleeves and got to work."

Leum said they recovered countless bodies during their four days on the ground in Turkey, but were also present for three live rescues.

The first occurred five days after the initial quake, when they received reports of possible voices coming from beneath the rubble.

"We were working frantically trying to gain access to the middle of that pile of rubble," Leum said. "There was a lot of work going on, loud work going on."

Then, everyone paused to see if they could hear voices.

"Literally for a square block, everyone walking down the street froze in place," Leum said, "while one person tried to yell out and get communication with the person inside the pile of rubble."

2 men rescued from rubble 261 hours after devastating earthquake in Turkey

Nearly 11 days after a massive earthquake and powerful aftershocks rocked southeastern Turkey, two men trapped beneath the rubble have been rescued.

They did hear voices, and hours later they were able to rescue a 52-year-old mother and her 18-year-old son from beneath the rubble.

"It kind of gives you an extra gear to put you in overdrive because now you realize this is actually happening," Leum said. "There's somebody who is alive, and we just want to get to them while they're still alive."

Three days later, they made another rescue.

"In the process of excavating the building on top of him, one of the excavator operators heard something and then determined it was a voice," Leum said. "And this guy took off in his bulldozer and drove three city blocks to where an ambulance was, and yelled for them to follow him.

"We followed also, and he took us back to the site where they were talking to this individual, and he was in a fairly large sized pocket and luckily was very close to the hole that was punched to gain access to him."

They pulled the 17-year-old boy from a pocket within the rubble. He was uninjured and talking. Leum said it was a miracle that he survived, given lack of food and water, and the weather conditions.

"(Seven days) is quite a while, especially when you consider that every night the temperatures were hovering around 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

So far, at least 41,000 people are believed to have been killed in the massive earthquake. The search for survivors continues.

"We definitely felt the spirit of camaraderie with everyone joined together for the same purpose," Leum said. "Sometimes it might just be the fact that people realize that America cares and America is there standing there with them."