The mother of a three-year-old boy, who was found three days after he went missing in Australian woodland, says she feels “blessed” her son is now safe.
Anthony “AJ” Elfalak was in a sweatshirt and diaper, sitting in a creek and cupping water in his hands, when he was found less than 500m from his home on Monday.
Holding AJ at the front door of the family home north of Sydney, Ms Elfalak told reporters: “I can’t explain it, I’m so blessed, I’m so happy that he’s here, he’s with us, he’s safe and well, and healthy. That’s all that matters.”
She added: “I want to thank everybody, everyone, the media, the police, the RFS (Rural Fire Service), the SES (State Emergency Service), everybody that prayed for us and helped find him. Thank you.”
Hundreds of people searched for the boy, who has autism and is non-verbal, after he went missing from his family’s home near the village of Putty late on Friday morning.
A police helicopter spotted the boy sitting in a shallow creek bed on Monday morning about 470m (1,540ft) from his home, Police Superintendent Tracy Chapman said.
One of the pilots who located AJ, PolAir Tactical Flight Officer Jonathan Smith, said he felt “absolute joy” when AJ was spotted.
“As soon as I saw the image of him on the screen I was just, you know, taken aback and we straight away knew it was him,” Mr Smith told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday.
AJ was in good health when he was found but was taken to a hospital for observation, officials said on Monday.
His father Anthony Elfalak, said it was a “miracle” AJ, who had been bitten by ants, had nappy rash and suffered abrasions, had been found.
Speaking after the family were reunited he said: “He’s just clinging to mum.
“As soon as he heard his mum, he opened his eyes and looked at her and fell asleep.”
Police have assumed AJ spent the entire time he was missing in the woods, Ms Chapman said.
She added that AJ survived thanks to his ability to find drinking water in the Australian heat.
Overnight temperatures in the area dipped as low as 6C (43F).
The paramedic who examined AJ, Gerry Pyke, described him as a “little survivor”.
“Little AJ’s condition was quite remarkable,” Mr Pyke said.
“He was very, very thankful. I could see that in his eyes.”