By Jackson Russell
The rescue of a teenager missing for nearly 48 hours in the Mount Disappointment State Forest will forever stay in the minds of the hundreds of volunteers who joined a large scale search operation last week.
William Callaghan, known as Will, who has non-verbal autism, was separated from his father when walking at about 2.20pm on Monday.
After two days of searching day and night, with about 500 people on the ground each day, Will was found at midday on Wednesday by volunteer Ben Gibbs.
Will was found in good health and was taken to Royal Children’s Hospital in Parkville, where an insect was removed from his ear and he was treated for a suspected broken foot.
He was found about 1500 metres from the operation’s staging area at the Blair’s Hut Picnic Area, about 40 minutes after his shoes were found in nearby bushland.
Mr Gibbs said he found Will standing peacefully in the bush.
“I was just wandering through the bush and it was quite thick so I was breaking my way through it and he was about 15 metres from me, just standing there, just really angelic,” he said.
Will was wearing navy blue tracksuit pants and a hoodie windcheater but was found without shoes.
Mr Gibbs was able to give Will some chocolate and gave him the shoes and socks off his feet and jacket off his back.
Will’s mother Penny Callaghan said she was ‘immensely relieved’ and thanked everyone involved in the search.
“I couldn’t believe it. I can’t imagine what he’s been feeling and going through and I’m just so grateful and so relieved,” she said.
“More than anything, thank you everyone. I’m so grateful, you’re all amazing. What an amazing community.”
Acting Inspector Christine Lalor led the search operation. She said it was the best outcome possible and great to have a good news story after a tough three months.
“It was really good for everyone to come together for such an important matter,” she said.
“Obviously as time goes on, we know the risk increases but Penny, myself and the team were all quite optimistic that we would find him and for some reason, whether it was wishful thinking, that morning I just had a feeling that we were going to find him that day, so I think it’s important to not lose hope and to stay optimistic.”
Member for McEwen Rob Mitchell acknowleged the ‘incredible efforts’ of volunteers in Parliament on Thursday.
“People were on foot, on horseback and on motorbikes, and community members drove around in cars all night, searching in the night and early in the morning in below-zero temperatures as helicopters flew above their heads,” he said,
“People stood up, they got out and they helped in the effort because a young boy’s life was in danger. This epitomises the Australian spirit.
“Some have said that this story is a miracle, but actually I think it demonstrates the unwavering commitment and co-ordination displayed by police, SES and the local community, who pulled together a top-notch successful rescue mission.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted his relief upon hearing the news.
“Very relieved to hear both the missing boys from Victoria and NSW have been found, I’m sure this is a great relief to their families. A huge thank you to all those involved in the search efforts over the past few days,” he said.
- For more about the search for Will, pay a visit to page 10 and 11 of our online edition.