Anthony “AJ” Elfalak went missing from his family’s rural home near the village of Putty, north of Sydney, on Friday morning, sparking a frantic search that involved hundreds of people.
A police helicopter crew spotted AJ, who is autistic and nonverbal, sitting in shallow water in a creek bed about 470 metres from his home at around 11:30am, Police Superintendent Tracy Chapman said.
Footage released by New South Wales police on Monday showed the moment AJ was discovered by the officers in an area that had already been searched. “I’ve got the boy”, one is heard saying as he gives the coordinates to the child’s location to searchers on the ground.
AJ was taken to Singleton hospital for observation but is in good condition, ambulance officers said.
Anthony Elfalak, the boy’s father, said he had been bitten by ants and had a nappy rash.
“It’s a miracle. He has been bitten by ants and he has fallen over but he is alive. He is alive,” Mr Elfalak told reporters after he and his wife Kelly were reunited with their son.
“He’s just clinging to mum. As soon as he heard his mum, he opened his eyes and looked at her and fell asleep.”
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison expressed his relief in a video posted on Facebook. “Thank goodness,” he said. “I can’t imagine how traumatic this experience has been for AJ and his parents. Glad to hear he’s safe.”
State emergency services Chief Inspector Simon Merrick said the three-year-old was kneeling in the creek when an officer reached him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
He said that the boy “turned towards him with a massive smile on his face that he will not forget”.
Superintendent Chapman said his ability to find drinking water was a key factor in his survival due to the danger of dehydration, while overnight temperatures in the area dipped as low as 6C.
Superintendent Chapman also said enquiries will be continuing into how the child went missing. “Certainly what occurred during the course of those three days ]is under investigation] and I know everyone has lots of questions.”
The paramedic who examined AJ, Gerry Pyke, described him as a “little survivor”.
“Little AJ’s condition was quite remarkable,” Pyke said. “He was very, very thankful. I could see that in his eyes.”
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