Family of the Victorian teenager who spent two nights lost in freezing bushland this week say their biggest fear had been the non-verbal boy would go missing.
Hundreds of volunteers spent two days searching Mount Disappointment for William Callaghan after he ran ahead of his dad while on a hike on Monday.
The 14-year-old was found after two nights in the freezing bush, 60 kilometres north of Melbourne, by experienced local bushman Ben Gibbs. He was cold and had minor injuries, but was otherwise well.
“For all of us who work with Will, who are part of Will’s life, one of our biggest fears is that he will go missing on our watch,” William’s stepfather Nathan Ezard told Nine’s Today program on Friday.
“(William’s dad) Phil and I have talked lots over the last few days and, you know, Phil’s very magnanimous – he said to me multiple times over the years and the last couple of days that, you know, you’re just as much his dad as I am.
“The feelings that Phil will have been going through over the last few days are the worst for any of us.”
Mr Gibbs found William off the main Mount Disappointment summit track shortly before lunchtime on Wednesday. He gave him socks, a jacket and chocolate before the teenager was reunited with his family.
After a night in Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital – and a first meal of his favourite McDonald’s – William went home to his family on Thursday afternoon.
On Thursday, his mother Penny Callaghan thanked “the amazing guy” for rescuing her son.
She was amazed by Will’s ability to stay put during his time alone in the bush, waiting to be found.
The massive search for the teenager drew up to 500 emergency services personnel and volunteers. Rescuers blasted the Thomas the Tank Engine theme song – Will’s favourite – during their search, while locals were advised to leave out favourite foods that might lure the missing teenager.
On Friday, Mr Ezard thanked everyone who helped in the search, including Mansfield Autism Statewide Services, who spent years working with William.
He said Mr Gibbs was the perfect example of the people who helped find the teenager – listening to all the advice about what would make WIlliam comfortable.
“The fact that he let you carry him is a huge thing. Will doesn’t like being touched so you obviously made him feel very comfortable and he is just the … Ben is just the perfect picture person for everyone that was up there,” Mr Ezard said.