Bush tracker who searched for AJ Elfalak in Putty, NSW, shares how the toddler survived


Pictured: AJ Elfalak, age three

A bush tracker who joined the search for an autistic toddler after he mysteriously disappeared in the wilderness for three days believes the three-year-old survived by hiding in caves and a wombat hole.

Police and rescue crews flew into a frenzy when Anthony ‘AJ’ Elfalak vanished without a trace from his home in Putty, 150km northwest of Sydney in the Upper Hunter Valley, just after 11am on September 3.

Helicopters, dog squads, SES, Rural Fire Service and hundreds of volunteers scoured bushland to find the little boy – before he was miraculously found alive 72 hours later in a creek, just 200m away from home.

AJ was shivering, starving, dehydrated and had a bad case of nappy rash, but was otherwise in high spirits – prompting questions as to how a toddler with special needs managed to survive in the bush by himself for three cold nights.

Family and friends repeatedly claimed AJ was very likely kidnapped – ‘there is no other reasonable ­explanation than an abduction,’ the boy’s godfather Alan Hashem told reporters at the time.

His distraught mother Kelly also said: ‘He holds my hand all day, all night. We are together all the time. I think he’s been taken. If he was around here, I would’ve found him by now.’ 

But survival expert Jake Cassar who helped with the search says he saw tracks around the mouth of a wombat hole in the area where the youngster was found.

Pictured: Bush tracker Jake Cassar, who says he found AJ's tracks inside a cave and wombat hole

Pictured: Bush tracker Jake Cassar, who says he found AJ’s tracks inside a cave and wombat hole

Mr Cassar (right) is pictured with AJ's mother Kelly Elfalak during the search for her son

Mr Cassar (right) is pictured with AJ’s mother Kelly Elfalak during the search for her son

‘It was a small track, but it’s highly likely it was his, in my opinion,’ the 45-year-old told News Corp.

He also said the property was dotted with caves, including one that looked as though someone had been staying in it.

‘It’s hard to tell, because it’s really soft sand, but it looked like the sand had been dragged out, and you can see what looked like knee marks and maybe some fabric marks in the sand, too,’ he explained.

He said the were tracks leading to a wombat hole that he believes were likely left by AJ. 

Mr Hashem said footage from CCTV cameras installed on a tree overlooking the driveway leading up to the property cut out the moment the boy went missing, but others claimed the cameras were damaged before the boy vanished. 

‘How did he leave?’ he asked. ‘Did anything sinister happen?’ 

Pictured: Moments after AJ was found

Pictured: AJ drinking from a creek

The spot AJ was found was just 500m from his family home and was explored extensively in the days he was missing. Pictured: Moments after he was found

AJ Elfalak (pictured) went missing on September 3 and was found three days later, covered in cuts and bruises

AJ Elfalak (pictured) went missing on September 3 and was found three days later, covered in cuts and bruises

Superintendent Tracy Chapman said last Monday: ‘I don’t understand what has ­happened with some footage, however it’s subsequently part of our ­inquires still’.

AJ’s father Anthony Elfalak told reporters 48 hours after his son went missing that ‘little boys don’t just up and disappear’.

But Mr Cassar said AJ’s injuries were consistent with the theory that he was lost in the bush for three days.

‘There’s no doubt he’d spent the entire time in the bush,’ he said. ‘He had scratches that were three days old, scratches that looked two days old.

‘I’ve spent a lot of time in the bush, often for weeks on end, and I know what someone looks like when they’ve been in the bush for a long time.’

Greg Chalmers, the SES volunteer who first sighted the youngster, also said AJ was shivering as though he had been cold for a long time.

This aerial image shows the distance between AJ's home and the area where he was found - complete with the dense bushland and dangerously steep terrain in between

This aerial image shows the distance between AJ’s home and the area where he was found – complete with the dense bushland and dangerously steep terrain in between

Once inside an ambulance, paramedics said he devoured an entire pizza and a banana, and ‘guzzled’ two bottles water – typical traits of someone who hadn’t eaten for days.

‘He was starving… it’s all consistent with him being in the bush the entire time,’ a paramedic said.

Police have also suggested that AJ’s autism likely helped him maintain a calm state of mind.

‘The reality is he didn’t know he was lost… so he wasn’t scared, he didn’t panic,’ an investigator said.

Celebrations were underway from about 1pm on Monday - an hour after word spread that AJ had been found alive

Celebrations were underway from about 1pm on Monday – an hour after word spread that AJ had been found alive

‘The reality is he didn’t know he was lost… so he wasn’t scared, he didn’t panic,’ an investigator said.

The Child Mind Institute says children with autism often have ‘a weaker sense of danger’ than others and enjoy exploration.

They’re also more likely to ‘wander off’ or look to remove themselves from overwhelming sensory experiences.

When AJ was pulled from the river, his mother sobbed uncontrollably and his grandmother fell to her knees and thanked the government for the search efforts.

Professional tracker brought in to help determine how little AJ wound up in the bush 

Pictured: Bush tracker Jake Cassar

Pictured: Bush tracker Jake Cassar 

AJ Elfalak’s family is relying on the opinion of a professional bush tracker to help them understand how the toddler spent three nights alone in the unforgiving terrain behind their home.

Jake Cassar has been at the family home in Putty, 150km northwest of Sydney in the Upper Hunter Valley, since Saturday, volunteering his expertise to help track AJ.

He told Daily Mail Australia on Tuesday he couldn’t rule out that the three-year-old was abducted, and said his job was to consider all possible scenarios.

‘I’m here to keep an open mind,’ he said.

‘The way I see it, if you’ve got two feet and a heartbeat anything is possible. Doesn’t matter if you’re a 97-year-old woman or a three-year-old boy.’ 

Mr Cassar queried whether AJ had in fact travelled further from the home and somehow looped back to where he was found, which is just 500m from his family home and was explored extensively in the days he was missing.

The professional tracker remained close to the family since arriving and was spotted in khaki clothing on Tuesday to head into the ditch where AJ was spotted.

He said he planned to head down with his search party and explore the area to find any potential paths that AJ might have taken.

Mr Cassar told Daily Mail Australia on Tuesday he couldn't rule out that the three-year-old was abducted, and said his job was to consider all possible scenarios. 'I'm here to keep an open mind,' he said. Mr Cassar (right) is pictured with AJ's mother Kelly

Mr Cassar told Daily Mail Australia on Tuesday he couldn’t rule out that the three-year-old was abducted, and said his job was to consider all possible scenarios. ‘I’m here to keep an open mind,’ he said. Mr Cassar (right) is pictured with AJ’s mother Kelly 

The entrance into the creek is so steep even most adults would struggle to clamber down.

Photographs taken by Daily Mail Australia at the base illustrate just how rocky and unstable the terrain is.

AJ was found sitting in a shallow, muddy creek at the base of what appeared to be a barely visible path, but the question remains as to how he made it down such a steep track safely.

Mr Cassar explained it was very possible that, even with hundreds of volunteers, little AJ avoided detection while in the bush. 

He said search parties tended to stay in straight lines and follow a near perfect trajectory from point A to point B, whereas somebody who is lost intuitively does the opposite.

‘When we’re lost, we almost always walk at a slight curve to the right or left, therefore it’s easy to travel in directions that might be missed by search parties,’ Mr Cassar said.

He hoped to provide the family some further guidance as to whether AJ likely wandered off on his own or was abducted, which is what the family initially believed.

A relative who said he lived at the home with the Elfalaks jumped in to say the family was performing ‘their own investigation’.

‘We’d like to think the police are still investigating, but they’re not here are they,’ the man said.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk