The boy was clinging to his mother after being rescued. "As soon as he heard his mum, he opened his eyes and looked at her and fell asleep," his father said.
A family never gave up hope as hundreds of people searched for 3-year-old Anthony "AJ" Elfalak, who was lost in the woods and miraculously survived all by himself for days. On September 3, 2021, AJ's family could not find him on their rural property in the Hunter region in Australia, and they soon reported him missing.
"The three-year-old could not be located after he was last seen at a home on the property about 11:45 am," said a press release put out by the NSW Police Force.
With hundreds of individuals getting involved, a massive search began to find AJ, who reportedly has autism and is non-verbal. After about three days of searching for the boy, the child was found sitting in a creek and drinking water.
Wearing a sweatshirt and diapers, AJ was found with a diaper rash and had abrasions on his body, as reported by AP. He was also bitten by ants, but otherwise, the child did not show any alarming signs after spending several days in the woods. When AJ was first spotted by a helicopter crew, he was seen cupping his hands and drinking water from the creek on Monday, September 6. The first member of the rescue team found AJ "kneeling in the river bed," said Simon Merrick, the chief inspector of NSW State Emergency.
"They put a hand on his shoulder and comforted him," Merrick told CTV News, as quoted by PEOPLE. "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."
"[AJ] turned towards him with a massive smile on his face that [his rescuer] will not forget," Merrick added, as quoted by The Sydney Morning Herald. Soon, the boy's parents, Kelly and Anthony Elfalak, were informed about their son's whereabouts. The tired parents had also spent days searching everywhere for the child and were immensely relieved to have finally reunited with AJ.
"It’s amazing. My leg, my hips, my ankles, I can’t walk," the father said. "I have been in the bush for four days with no sleep. We didn’t stop. But he is alive." While speaking to reporters, the father declared, "It’s a miracle," according to AP.
A 3-year-old boy wearing a sweat shirt and diaper was found sitting in a creek and cupping water in his hands to drink, three days after he was lost in rugged Australian woodland. https://t.co/k9kxLG0fqe— ABC News (@ABC) September 7, 2021
AJ was given medical attention, and he was "just clinging to mum" after being rescued, the father said. "As soon as he heard his mum, he opened his eyes and looked at her and fell asleep," he continued.
Without a doubt, everybody involved in the incident is glad that the story has a happy ending. NSW Ambulance paramedic, Gerry Pyke, agreed that AJ is a "little survivor," according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
3- yr old Aussie boy found alive after three days in the woods https://t.co/ktvNDBtUJc— Notgoing Totellyou (@M5B1tch) September 6, 2021
"For little AJ, everything was on his side," Pyke said. "He persevered, he had a will to survive and he certainly showed that."
In a statement released after AJ was found, his family said: "Our family is together again. For that we are grateful to everyone who has assisted in any way over the last three days. AJ is fine. Hold your kids close."
Cover image source: NSW Police Force/Twitter