Missing 3-Year-Old Boy with Autism Found After 3 Days Lost in Australian Woods: 'It's a Miracle'
A missing 3-year-old boy has been found safe after authorities say he spent several days alone in the Australian woods.
Anthony "AJ" Elfalak was discovered by police on Monday around 11:30 a.m., three days after he was reported missing, according to a press release from the New South Wales Police Force.
"It's a miracle," his father, Anthony Elfalak, told a group of reporters after he and his wife, Kelly Elfalak, were reunited with their toddler son, the Associated Press reported.
Authorities said the boy disappeared from a rural property in Putty, which is a village located in New South Wales, just north of Sydney.
Police immediately launched a search, with hundreds of emergency service volunteers and other agencies pitching in to help, including NSW Ambulance, State Emergency Service, Rural Fire Service and the Volunteer Rescue Association.
The NSW Police said officers also utilized their trail bike officers, Dog and Mounted Unit, divers and helicopter teams to help find the boy.
After three days of searching, AJ was spotted by a police helicopter crew Monday sitting in shallow water in a creek bed, about 1,540 feet from his home, Police Superintendent Tracy Chapman said, according to the AP.
Footage of the moment was later posted by the NSW Police's Twitter account, showing the boy sitting alone in the wilderness and cupping water from the creek into his mouth.
Speaking to reporters after the rescue, Simon Merrick, the chief inspector of NSW State Emergency, said the first team member who reached AJ "found him kneeling in the river bed."
"They put a hand on his shoulder and comforted him," Merrick said, per CTV News. "He actually took a knee on our rescuer's knee and then actually, a big smile towards him, as well. And they embraced in that moment."
Merrick added that AJ's "massive smile" was one that the officer who approached him "will not forget," according to the AP.
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The boy was later evaluated by NSW Ambulance paramedics, who determined that he was in "good condition" but transported him to a hospital for observation, according to the AP.
"[He's] a little survivor," paramedic Gerry Pyke, who examined AJ, told the outlet. "Little AJ's condition was quite remarkable. He was very, very thankful. I could see that in his eyes."
As news of his survival spread, AJ's family members excitedly celebrated, telling 9News that they "never gave up" hope that the young boy was alive.
After being evaluated and reunited with his parents, AJ fell asleep in the ambulance, the AP reported.
"He's just clinging to mum," Anthony told reporters, according to the AP. "As soon as he heard his mum, he opened his eyes and looked at her and fell asleep."
Pyke added that the boy later woke up hungry, joking that he got "into about three slices of pizza and a banana so he's pretty good."
Anthony said his son had been bitten by ants and suffered diaper rash and abrasions, but was expected to be okay, the AP reported.
Chapman also noted that AJ's ability to find drinking water was considered a major reason as to why he survived and did not suffer dehydration after three days.