William Callaghan’s mother says she can’t wait to meet the “amazing guy” who rescued the autistic teenager from dense bushland north of Melbourne on Wednesday.
“He clearly did all the right stuff. What an amazing guy,” Penny Callaghan said outside the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne on Thursday morning.
“I would love to give him a hug and am incredibly thankful. It was great to hear his story, and his family connection to the mountain and if it was to be renamed I hope it is after him.”
Volunteer searcher Ben Gibbs found Will – who is non-verbal – in dense bush on Mount Disappointment about lunchtime on Wednesday. Mr Gibbs was one of up to 500 people to join the desperate search for the 14-year-old, who had spent two nights in freezing conditions on the mountain, north of Melbourne.
Will was wearing only trackpants and a hoodie, and had no food and water with him, when he vanished while walking with family on Monday.
“[Mr Gibbs] just, singing as he was approaching Will. From what I can tell, he gave him the clothes off his back, including his socks and his shoes. Just awesome,” Ms Callaghan said.
She said the two nights alone in the bush had probably been an ordeal for her son.
“It was probably just an adventure as well. And he was happy I’m there and he slept pretty well last night – a lot better than I did,” she said.
Will’s first request after being reunited with his family – including stepfather Nathan Hazard and brother Robin – on Wednesday was for McDonald’s.
“He had four boxes of chips, large, and some nuggets,” Ms Callaghan said.
She said her son was clearly confused by his experience – and one of his first instincts was to play his favourite song, Thomas the Tank Engine, to calm himself.
Searchers had blasted the song through speakers during the two long, cold nights Will was missing. They also asked locals to leave out his favourite foods – including Vegemite, fetta cheese and barbecued bacon and onions – to try to draw him out of the bush.
Ms Callaghan again thanked the massive group involved in the search for her son, including “really wonderful friends but also supporters in the autistic community”.
“It was a team effort – so many people involved,” she said.
“All that support made all the difference for me – it is how I managed to cope.”
Will remained in hospital on Thursday morning, with a suspected broken foot and what is thought to be an insect in his ear. His mother said treatment for both posed issues.
“He is not going to be compliant – doesn’t understand what is going on and why people are trying to touch him and poke him and prod him,” she said.
Will was reportedly discharged from hospital on Thursday afternoon, and headed home to Geelong, south of Melbourne, with his family. However, camping remains off limits for the foreseeable future.
“I can’t go to sleep in the tent and not expect him to stay in the tent and not wander off,” Ms Callaghan said.
“Camping is probably not on the cards, I don’t think, because of that risk.”