AJ’S MIRACLE SURVIVAL
LOST ALONE IN DENSE BUSHLAND FOR DAYS, THIS YEAR OLD HAS LEFT PEOPLE AMAZED BY HIS SURVIVAL
“He had a will to survive”
Hungry, shaking with cold and sitting in a creek bed cupping water into his mouth, little Anthony “AJ” Elfalak was surviving only on instinct when he was spotted by rescuers in a police helicopter.
For four days and three nights, an extensive search by family and friends, scores of emergency services officers, sniffer dogs and over 385 volunteers had failed to find any trace of the boy who went missing on September 3 while playing with his three brothers on his family property in NSW’s Hunter Valley.
Police will tell you they never gave up hope of locating the toddler, but with each passing hour the likelihood of finding AJ alive was growing slimmer.
When word came through on Monday morning the non-verbal toddler with autism had been found, his physically and emotionally exhausted mother Kelly collapsed. His father Anthony declared his boy’s survival “miraculous’’. “It’s a miracle,’’ Anthony, 39, said when told his son had been found. “It’s amazing. I have been in the bush for four days with no sleep. We didn’t stop. He is alive. Everything was on his side. He persevered, he had a will to survive and he certainly showed that.’’
Experienced rescuers are also stunned that AJ was found with just a few cuts and bruises, insect bites and nappy rash. They believe that at some stage he may have sought shelter in a wombat hole.
SES volunteer Greg Chalmers, the first to reach the boy by the creek bed which was less than 500m from his home, said he couldn’t believe the boy had survived in the inhospitable conditions – with temperatures dropping to two degrees at night!
“It’s incredible that he was actually still alive,’’ Chalmers told radio station 2GB. “He was cold as. That little man was freezing like you wouldn’t believe. He was shaking.’
“I put my hand on that little boy and he looked around and gave me the biggest smile,” he continued. “I sat down in the river beside him understanding his condition and just talked to him and reassured him and then I checked him for injuries and sat him on my knee. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
After a good night’s sleep in his own bed wrapped in his mother’s arms, AJ was already back to his carefree self. “He’s happy, he’s healthy, he is sleeping,’’ his mother Kelly told Nine Network’s Today show on September 7.
With AJ unable to share his survival secrets and what happened during his ordeal, police have revealed they are still investigating his disappearance. When the search was well underway, many theories were floated about what might have happened to him, with family members suggesting something sinister might have occurred.
With his father allegedly having historical links to a bikie gang, reports of a mystery white ute being seen on the property and claims of missing CCTV footage, police were investigating the
possibility that he had been abducted.
“A kid just doesn’t pick up and disappear, not from here,’’ his father ominously warned during the search.
The boys’ godfather Alan Hashem described the place as their “fortress’’ and had installed CCTV along the perimeter of the house, with hours of the footage around the time of AJ’s disappearance said to be gone from the tapes.
The family also said they had seen a white ute nearby around the same time AJ went missing. Police later seized a Toyota ute from a property about 80km away. They also searched an abandoned shack about 1km away from AJ’s home.
Superintendent Tracy Chapman confirmed on September 7 police would continue with their investigations, but that at this stage it appeared AJ’s miraculous survival was just that.
“There are some lines of inquiry we will continue to follow, but at this point of time all things point towards the boy being lost out there for three days,’’ she said.