Barefoot and looking “angelic”, William Callaghan was found after spending two freezing nights lost in the Victorian wilderness.
Authorities had been playing a Thomas the Tank Engine song and even asked locals to cook up William’s favourite foods, as fears grew with the start of the third day in the search for the missing boy.
One of the searchers found a shoe.
Then, before lunch, the moment William’s family had been praying for – and the good news Victorians needed.
Ben Gibbs, a local with extensive experience in the bush at Mt Disappointment, had spotted William about a 10 minute walk from where police had set up a search headquarters.
Mr Gibbs handed over a pair of socks, chocolate and a jacket. He then carried the barefoot 14-year-old, who has autism and is non-verbal, towards safety.
In the end, William walked the last steps himself – wearing Mr Gibbs’ shoes.
Despite his ordeal, William was smiling soon after his rescue, having survived almost 48 hours in the dense bushland, north of Melbourne.
He was taken to the Royal Children’s Hospital, where he spent the night in a stable condition.
“I am really overwhelmed here. He is as well as could be under the circumstances, he is quite calm considering,” relieved mother Penny Callaghan told reporters soon after being reunited with her son.
“I can’t imagine what he’s been feeling and going through. I am just so relieved.”
William’s first request was for McDonald’s, so it’s on the menu.
“I think he wanted hot salty food,” Ms Callaghan said.
She thanked all the searchers for their efforts.
“More than anything, thank you everyone. I’m so grateful, you’re all amazing. What an amazing community,” she said.
They should re-name Mt Disappointment to Mt William Callaghan
Best news I’ve heard for ages 👏👏👏
— Kidcowboy (@Kidcowboy2) June 10, 2020
Mr Gibbs was one of hundreds of people who had searched for William after he disappeared on Monday afternoon.
Police drew on fresh tactics to draw him out, with his favourite tune from Thomas the Tank Engine blasted over sound systems and food left out for him.
But Mr Gibbs, who grew up in the area and calls Mt Disappointment his “family mountain”, dug deeper into the bush than others before him.
“He was just about 15 metres from me, just standing there. He was really angelic just standing,” Mr Gibbs said.
“He looked in reasonable health. He wasn’t shivering too bad. He didn’t have socks on, so I put some socks on him and a jacket. I gave him some chocolate. He ate half the chocolate bar.”
“I am the one who stumbled across him, but everyone found him,” he said, having felt like he was on the right track before spotting him.
“This is kind of our family mountain. I’ve been coming up here since I was a boy, so I know it really well,” he said.
William was about 1.5 kilometres from the staging area – a 10-minute walk off the track in bushland, Acting Inspector Christine Lalor said.
“What an amazing result,” she said.
“He is alert, warm, eating and drinking and he actually asked for McDonald’s.”
Will is now safe and sound! A very big thank you to everyone involved. pic.twitter.com/XzU2yIvSY1
— Victoria Police (@VictoriaPolice) June 10, 2020
William’s shoes were found about 100 metres away from the main track, fellow volunteer Carla Visona told media after he was found.
“I nearly started crying, it was crazy. Just the best feeling and the best outcome,” she said, off to the pub to celebrate his return.
William was taken to the search staging area about 1pm and searchers were asked not to break out in the usual cheers so not to overwhelm him.
Within the hour, he left in an ambulance while eating Tic Tacs, joined by his mother and stepfather Nathan Ezard.
That’s when a huge cheer erupted across the search camp.
Royal Children’s Hospital registrar Dani Bersin later told reporters that the teenager is recovering well.
“He’s got a couple of abrasions on his feet and one or two on his face but other than that he is looking pretty good,” Dr Bersin said.
“We think he should be able to go home later this evening.”
Deputy Emergency Medicine Director Joanne Grindlay said William did not get hypothermia, probably because he’s an active youngster.
“Children are often a lot more resilient than us adults,” she said.