The mother of a toddler who spent three days lost in harsh Australian woodland says she feels “blessed” to have her son out of hospital, safe and home.
Anthony “AJ” Elfalak, who is three-years-old and has autism, went missing from his family home in rural New South Wales on Friday.
Family feared AJ, who doesn’t speak, had been abducted, but he was found on Monday following a search by authorities.
Rescuers found the child just 500m away from the house in a shallow creek, drinking water with cupped hands.
He suffered scratches and bruises from his ordeal and was taken to hospital for observation.
Speaking after AJ returned home from the hospital on Monday night, his mother, Kelly Elfalak, said she felt “blessed” to have her son home and thanked emergency services.
“I can’t explain it, I’m so blessed,” she said.
“I’m so happy that he is here. He’s with us, he’s safe and well and healthy, that’s all that matters,” she added.
Relatives said the youngster spent Tuesday sleeping, eating and playing with toys.
A pilot of the police helicopter that spotted AJ, Jonathan Smith, described his reaction as “absolute joy.”
“We were all emotional and I said to the boys… ‘If that doesn’t make you happy, nothing will,’” Mr Smith said, referring to the crew.
“We’ve been involved in many jobs that don’t turn out like this and it’s been the other end of the spectrum and it’s just really nice to have a positive outcome like this for once,” he added.
Greg Chalmers led the State Emergency Service team that reached AJ whom they found kneeling in the water.
“I just came around the corner and here’s this beautiful little kid just on his knees there. You go, wow, after four days. I couldn’t believe it, honestly,” Chalmers said.
AJ smiled and Mr Chalmers said he embraced the boy.
“Then probably the proudest moment was picking up the (radio) mike and I said to the little fella: ’Hey, how about we tell mum we’re coming home?” Chalmers said.
AJ responded by pointing at the name tag and SES badge on Chalmers’ uniform.
AJ’s family suspected that he had been abducted after hours of searching failed to find any trace of him and reported seeing a pickup truck nearby.
But police do not suspect anything suspicious was behind the disappearance.
Additional reporting by Associated Press