There have been joyous scenes on a NSW Hunter Valley farm after a three-year-old boy who went missing last Friday was found safe and well on Monday.
Anthony “AJ” Elfalak, who has autism and is non-verbal, vanished from his family’s remote rural property at Putty, near Singleton, about 11.45am on Friday.
After days of desperate searching on foot and from air, he was found by a rescue helicopter in nearby bushland on Monday morning, drinking creek water.
His overjoyed father, who is also Anthony, said the three-year-old had some nappy rash and a few cuts and scrapes. But he was largely unscathed after his weekend in the bush.
“It’s a miracle. He has been bitten by ants and he has fallen over but he is alive. He is alive. It’s amazing,” he said.
“My leg, my hips, my ankles, I can’t walk. I have been in the bush for four days with no sleep. We didn’t stop.”
AJ survived three nights alone outside in temperatures that dipped as low as three degrees. He was wearing little more than tracksuit pants and a cotton top.
Mr Elfalak said AJ would spend Monday night in the local hospital with his mother, Kelly Elfalak.
“He’s just clinging to mum. As soon as he heard his mum, he opened his eyes and looked up and fell asleep,” he said.
“He is going to Singleton Hospital for a full checkup and I don’t know how long he will stay there. Maybe tomorrow he will come back here.”
Footage broadcast by Nine showed AJ’s family jumping around in jubilation when they heard he had been found.
“Thank you for everyone. Thank you for the government. Thank you for the police. Thank you very much,” Ms Elfalak told Nine News.
“Thank you to my friend, my cousin, my sisters, my family. Thank you, everybody and whoever prayed for us.”
Mr and Ms Elfalak and their four sons moved to the rural property just months ago as Mr Elfalak’s work as a plumber dried up amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
Across the weekend more than 130 people were involved in the search of the property and volunteers helped police on foot and on dirt bikes.
Divers also searched and drained a large dam on the property.
NSW State Emergency Services tweeted: “We are over the moon and very happy to have provided our assistance.”
Hunter Valley Police District Commander Superintendent Tracy Chapman said little AJ was found in a puddle in a creek bed and had survived by drinking from it.
“Certainly, experts that we’ve consulted, if he had access to water, it was always going to be able to survive the longest period of time with dehydration being the issue so he obviously found some water and was able to access that, was clearly drinking it,” Ms Chapman said.
“It is obviously something which assisted in him surviving.”
Hunter Region SES Commander Chief Inspector Simon Merrick said it was emotional to find little AJ, who smiled at his rescuers when they located him.
“Our first member that reached him found him kneeling in the riverbed,” Mr Merrick said.
“They put a hand on his shoulder and comforted him, he went on our rescuer’s knee and a big smile towards him as well and they embraced at that moment.”
Family friend Alan Hashem, who was at the property when the boy went missing, spoke to Nine News after learning the boy had been found.
He said he had barely slept for days.
“We were driving ourselves crazy, this kid could barely walk,” Mr Hashem said.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she would be “absolutely delighted” if the then unconfirmed reports AJ had been found were true.
“I think all of us have been crossing everything to make sure AJ is brought back safely,” she said.
“If that’s the case, it’s much-needed good news in otherwise difficult circumstances.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison also tweeted his relief at the news the little boy was safe.
“I can’t imagine how traumatic this experience has been for AJ and his parents. Glad to hear he’s safe. Thanks to all at NSW Police and our paramedics,” he wrote.