An autistic toddler who spent four days missing in bushland has been discharged from hospital as investigations continue into how and why he seemingly vanished without a trace.
A police helicopter located little Anthony “AJ” Elfalak kneeling in a puddle, drinking from a creek bed Monday following an extensive rescue operation on his family's remote rural property in the NSW Hunter Valley.
There were tears of joy as the three-year-old, who is non-verbal, was reunited with his family before being taken to hospital for observation.
AJ escaped relatively unscathed after three nights exposed to the elements, suffering only minor scratches and nappy rash.
Police described feeling relief after his discovery but now their attention has turned to uncovering the missing details surrounding his disappearance.
The moment AJ was found
Rescuers have shed light on the “overwhelming” moment AJ was found alive and safe.
Chief Inspector Simon Merrick, the Hunter Region SES commander, told the Australian ground searchers approached AJ and called out to him.
“He was not able to hear and he didn’t react to PolAir above him,” Mr Merrick said.
“Our SES member was actually able to walk all the way to him and put his hand on his shoulder.
“He has stated that he turned towards him with a massive smile on his face that he will not forget.”
The first SES volunteers to reach him used the shirts off their back to keep him warm.
His discovery has been “overwhelming for some of our members,” Mr Merrick said.
Paramedics have described his condition as “remarkable” for a child who was alone in bushland for so long.
“By the time I got to him, the SES had done a wonderful job winning over his spirits,” Paramedic Gerry Pyke told the Australian.
“He was very, very thankful – like, you could see that in his eyes.”
7News reports that police are probing whether anything sinister was behind the boy's disappearance after his family expressed strong concern he had been abducted.
"There are some lines of inquiry we will continue to follow, but at this point in time all things point towards the boy being lost out there for three days," NSW Police Superintendent Tracy Chapman said Tuesday morning.
'Any longer and we may not have found him'
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, NSW police said the bushland where the boy was found was "very dense".
"Hence why the little fella was not found so quickly," a spokesperson said.
"He was only located within 200 metres of the house. There is no doubt emergency services during that search passed closely by the little boy who may have even been sleeping at the time. There's a lot of area there where he could have been hidden away from sight from the people searching on the ground.
"Pol-Air has a unique perspective from above. It was unfortunate that we couldn't find the boy earlier in the search, but our advantage from the air gives us a much better perspective than when you're at ground level," he explained.
"Any longer and we may not have found him."
Inquiries into what happened continue
How did an autistic and non-verbal toddler emerge unscathed after three nights lost in bushland?
How did thermal imaging cameras fail to find any sign of him?
How and why has a four-hour window of CCTV footage at the time of his disappearance been mysteriously lost?
Why did it take two hours for his family to tell police about a mysterious white ute on the property?
There are many unanswered questions that investigators must now endeavour to answer as they examine all reasonable theories.
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