DEVELOPING. UPDATED 2.35PM 10/6/2020
Missing teenager Will Callaghan has been found alive and well after being lost for two nights in freezing weather at Mount Disappointment north of Melbourne.
The 14-year-old, who is autistic and non-verbal, was found in bushland by volunteer Ben Gibbs shortly before 1pm on Wednesday.
Mr Gibbs, an experienced bushman, offered Will food and warm clothing after his ordeal in the Victorian wilderness.
The teenager was located nearly 48 hours after becoming separated from family on the Mount Disappointment summit.
Mr Gibbs, who grew up in the area, found Will about 20 minutes off the track, a little deeper in the bush than previous searches had covered.
“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.”
Mr Gibbs felt like he was on track to finding William before discovering the boy.
“This is kind of our family mountain. I’ve been going here since I was a boy, so I know it well,” he said.
News of his rescue came just hours after Will’s mother fronted the media with a heartfelt plea for her “beautiful, beautiful” son to be found.
“Any parent, I’m sure would be thinking the worst-case scenario. I can’t do that at the moment. I’m really hoping that we find him today. I don’t want him out another night,” Penny Callaghan said.
Will, who was wearing only a blue hoodie and track pants, had not been seen since 2.20pm Monday, when he was vanished while walking with family at Mount Disappointment, about 60 kilometres north of Melbourne.
An air and ground search was launched for him later on Monday.
“He was here with another family member, and they just sort of lost sight of him. And he’s fast. And like I said, he’s very fit. He loves the bush,” Ms Callaghan said.
An ABC reporter on the scene said police and emergency services searchers were jubilant, but were also trying to remain calm to avoid frightening Will.
“He’s spent two nights in this dark, dangerous and very cold wilderness, and could be in a fragile state in some way, even though he appears, and we’re told that he’s alive and pretty healthy,” journalist Iskhandar Razak said.
Earlier, Ms Callaghan described her son as “low-functioning” and said he had an intellectual disability but was resilient and smart, although vulnerable.
“If he has reached the urban environment at this point, he will look out of place,” she said.
“He will be quite scared of loud noises and he’s wearing navy blue. I’m hoping he still has his clothes on. He may be barefoot, though. He doesn’t like shoes.”
Ms Callaghan said anyone who saw Will should approach him quietly, with limited eye contact. Food would likely be his main driver, if he was found – earlier police had said the teenager might be drawn to Vegemite and fetta cheese, if it was left out, or to the smell of onions cooking on a barbecue.
“He’s not going to shy away from approaching someone for food,” Ms Callaghan said.
“He won’t ask them. He can’t – he’s non-verbal, so he won’t… You know, he might just try to grab it.”
Among the hundreds of volunteers searching for Will were people from three schools – two he used to attend and one in Geelong where he now goes. Ms Callaghan said she was grateful for the support of everyone who had joined the search, including her friends.
‘You know, I’m not really the praying type, but I’m praying now, because I want him home,” she said.
“I would be a mess if my friends weren’t here to support me at the moment. They’ve really come through.”
Overnight, searchers used thermal-imaging equipment and played music, including the Thomas the Tank Engine theme, in the hope of drawing the boy out of the bush.
Senior Sergeant Greg Paul, of the search and rescue squad, said earlier crews had searched for Will around the clock.
“We’re continuing on, and we’re expecting a lot more searchers today, and we’re really revving things up again for hopefully a successful day,” he said.
Senior Sergeant Paul said crews would head into gullies and “difficult country” on Wednesday, further from where the search for the teenager had been concentrated so far.
Victoria Police Sergeant Julie-Anne Newman said the search for Will was a “race against time”.
On Tuesday, Victoria Police Acting Inspector Christine Lalor urged people nearby to check their properties thoroughly in case Will had found shelter or sought food.
-more to come