CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A 3-year-old boy wearing a sweat shirt and diapers was found sitting in a creek and cupping water in his hands to drink on Monday, three days after he was lost in rugged Australian woodland.
Hundreds of people had been searching for Anthony “AJ” Elfalak, who has autism and is non-verbal, since he went missing from his family’s remote rural property near the village of Putty, north of Sydney, late Friday morning.
The crew of a police helicopter spotted him sitting in shallow water in a creek bed late Monday morning about 470 meters (1,540 feet) from his home, Police Superintendent Tracy Chapman said.
He was in good condition but was taken to a hospital for observation, ambulance officers said.
His father, Anthony Elfalak, said AJ had been bitten by ants, had diaper rash and suffered abrasions.
“It’s a miracle,” the father told reporters after he and his wife, Kelly Elfalak, were reunited with their son.
“He’s just clinging to mum. As soon as he heard his mum, he opened his eyes and looked at her and fell asleep,” he said.
AJ was found in an area that had been searched before. Police are assuming he spent the entire time in the woods, Chapman said.
His ability to find drinking water was a key factor in his survival because of the danger of dehydration, she said. Overnight temperatures in the area dipped as low as 6 degrees Celsius (43 degrees Fahrenheit).
AJ was kneeling in the creek when a State Emergency Service officer reached him and placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder, SES Chief Inspector Simon Merrick said.
The officer “stated that he (AJ) turned towards him with a massive smile on his face that he will not forget,” Merrick said.
The paramedic who examined AJ, Gerry Pyke, described him as a “little survivor.”
“Little AJ’s condition was quite remarkable,” Pyke said. “He was very, very thankful. I could see that in his eyes.”
AJ slept in an ambulance after he was reunited with his parents, then woke up hungry.
“He got stuck into about three slices of pizza and a banana so he’s pretty good,” Pyke said.