Police helicopter pilots have described the joyous moment they spotted a three-year-old boy who had spent three days lost and alone in rugged bushland after he went missing from his rural NSW home.
Anthony "AJ" Elfalak was reunited with his relieved family on Monday after being rescued by a SES volunteer who was directed to the boy by the pilots following an extensive search.
PolAir Tactical Flight Officer Jonathan Smith said he felt "absolute joy" when he saw the boy sitting in a puddle drinking muddy water from a creek.
"As soon as I saw the image of him on the screen I was just taken aback and we straight away knew it was him," Senior Constable Smith said on Tuesday.
AJ, who has autism and is non-verbal, went missing from his family's sprawling property at Putty about 11.45am on Friday.
He survived three nights in the bush in temperatures that dipped as low as 3C.
Special Constable Kevin Drake was the PolAir pilot and says it was understandable searches in the previous two days had missed the boy.
"You can be on the wrong side of a log during a search and you won't see someone laying there," he said on Tuesday.
"It just depends on terrain, sun, time of day, lots of different influences."
Greg Chalmers was the SES volunteer who first made contact with the boy.
"Here's this beautiful little boy, kneeling in the water trying to get a drink," he told Sydney radio 2GB on Tuesday.
"It was fantastic to absolutely see this little boy was actually alive.
"I put my hand on that little boy and he looked around and gave me the biggest smile."
"It was incredible that he was actually still alive. He gripped on and gripped on and just wouldn't let go."
Special Operations Team Paramedic Gerry Pyke said AJ's condition was remarkable.
"He is a little survivor," Mr Pyke said.
"He had some lacerations on his lower legs ... he did have a bit of nappy rash but he hadn't had a nappy change for a few days so we can't hold that against him."
AJ woke up very hungry when he woke up and ate three slices of pizza and a banana.
He remained in hospital overnight for observation and was home with his family on Tuesday.
His father Anthony Elfalak said AJ had been bitten by ants and had fallen over but he was just grateful his son was alive.
"He's just clinging to mum," Mr Elfalak told TV crews.
"As soon as he heard his mum, he opened his eyes and looked at her and fell asleep."
The Elfalak family issued a statement late on Monday afternoon expressing gratitude to everyone who helped in the search for AJ.
"AJ is fine," the statement said. "Hold your kids close. Please give our family the privacy to appreciate what we have."
More than 130 people searched the property at the weekend, with volunteers helping police on foot and on dirt bikes.
NSW Police Superintendent Tracy Chapman said investigations were ongoing into how AJ made his way so far from home.
"From a policing perspective we will still be continuing our inquiry to understand what has occurred over the past three days," she said.
"I know everyone has lots of questions."
Australian Associated Press