A search volunteer has described the moment he found a “really angelic” William Callaghan, ending a nearly three-day search for the 14-year-old on a Victorian mountain.
- Ben Gibbs has been visiting Mount Disappointment since he was a child and knows the area well
- Mr Gibbs said he carried Will part of the way back to the search base camp
- He described the successful search as “everybody’s effort”
Volunteer Ben Gibbs said he was singing when he came across a barefoot Will just before noon today.
Mr Gibbs knew the boy who had already spent two bitterly cold nights alone in the forest on Mount Disappointment had autism and was non-verbal.
“I was just peacefully walking through the bush,” he said.
“I was singing because I thought maybe if he hears some noise [he might respond] but he’s got autism so he’s not going to respond to shouting and things like that.”
Will was wrapped in a warm coat and blankets taken for medical checks after being rescued.(AAP: James Ross)
Mr Gibbs, who lives in Reservoir, knows the State Park area about 10 kilometres north of Whittlesea well.
He has been visiting Mount Disappointment since he was a child and it holds a special significance for his family.
They have buried a couple of dogs and spread the ashes of several other family pets and even a couple of grandparents there.
“This is kind of like our family mountain,” he said.
Hundreds of police, SES teams and volunteers had been combing the mountain since Will went missing during a hike with his family near the top about 2:20pm on Monday.
There were grave fears for the boy, with temperatures plunging to around zero degrees Celsius both nights.
Mr Gibbs said he had suffered exposure himself in the past and felt he could relate to what Will would be feeling.
“Exposure’s a terrible thing, the cold, so I really felt for him,” he said.
This morning he started his search by coming from the bottom of the mountain.
“There’s quite a bit of single track that goes through there that I know quite well so I just sort of followed that up and went off track once I got near the top,” he said.
“I saw where the guys had tagged where they did some searching previously so I dropped in a bit deeper than that.”
“It wasn’t too far down in there. From the track [he was about] 20 minutes in.
“I was just wandering through the bush, and I it was quite thick so I was breaking my way through, and then he was just like about 15 metres from me just standing there just really angelic.”
Mr Gibbs said Will looked to be in reasonable health and wasn’t shivering too badly. It was unclear whether he had been staying in the same place the whole time or moving around.
He didn’t have anything on his feet so Mr Gibbs put some socks, a jacket and a hat on the boy and gave him some chocolate.
“He didn’t seem bothered by me,” he said.
He had heard Will liked Thomas the Tank Engine so he talked to him about some of the characters like Diesel and Bertie.
“He was happy to get the chocolate,” he said.
“I just took my time.”
Eventually they made their way back towards the search base camp about 1.5km away, with Mr Gibbs carrying Will some of the way.
“Eventually I could hear some of the other guys and signalled for them,” he said.
SES volunteers held up a sheet to give Will and his family some privacy and to make sure he was not overwhelmed.(ABC News: Patrick Rocca)
At the base camp, they were met by Will’s ecstatic parents and the emergency services personnel held up tarps to shield him from the throng of media.
The boy’s mother, Penny Callaghan, said Will was “quite calm” considering what he had been through.
She said Will had indicated he was confused and was pressing his body which Ms Callaghan said meant “his body feels weird”.
“More than anything thank you, everyone, I’m so grateful, you’re all amazing. What an amazing community,” she said.
Will was this afternoon taken to Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital in a stable condition.
Mr Gibbs said he was “so happy”.
However, he was keen not to take any undue credit for finding Will.
“I was the one who stumbled across him but everybody found him,” he said.
“All the volunteers, all of the search and rescue, because they had combed next to do the road and tagged it I knew to drop down lower.
“So it was everybody’s effort.”
Will’s mother, Penny Callaghan, thanked volunteers and rescuers for their efforts.