The first thing three-year-old New Zealand boy Axle said to the man who found him 21 hours after the toddler went missing from his home was “I lost my mum”.
Peter Hughes was one of more than 300 people who were searching for the little boy after he disappeared from his family home, in the small town Tolaga Bay, north of Gisborne, around 1pm on Tuesday.
He had been scouring the riverbank on Wednesday morning, before deciding to head up a forestry track, several kilometres from Axle’s home, where he heard a child’s voice and then spotted the toddler, about 10.45am on Wednesday.
“He came out of the grass, little blonde hair and blue gumboots,” Mr Hughes said.
“He was crying and kept saying, ‘I lost my mum.’
“I said, ‘Well bro I found your mum, so you come with me, and I’ll take you to your mum’.”
When Mr Hughes reunited Axle with his family “my heart came to my stomach and tears came to my eyes,” he said.
“This little man is the real hero.”
Axle’s father, who did not want to be named, saying he was a private man, said Axle’s disappearance had been a “pretty scary” experience and at times he had feared the worst.
“I didn’t think it was going to be a good ending,” he said.