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Joy, disbelief after boy is rescued in risky Tsavo wilderness six days later

Search party with the boy who went missing in the Tsavo East National Park. [Sheldrick Wildlife Trust]

A four-year-old boy survived in the wilderness for six days before he was rescue.

For close to week, a search party comprising more than 70 combed Tsavo East National Park in Taita Taveta, looking for the boy who got lost while herding livestock with his siblings.

According to Roan Carr-Hartley, a pilot with the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT), a conservancy that deals with elephants, he overflew the search party on the first day he joined the rescue efforts in vain. That was on November 29.

“It was an unforgiving environment for any person to be alone, let alone a child so young,” wrote Roan in the account published on SWT website and shared on their social media pages.

“It seemed hopeless searching for a tiny boy in such a huge expanse of wilderness. There have been times where I haven’t been able to locate a particular elephant for up to a week, let alone a four-year-old child.”

The following morning, the search party continued on foot. On Saturday, the ground search party, after braving heavy rains to retrace the tracks, alerted Roan.

“The next morning, I was wheels up at 6.15am,” he wrote, admitting he had almost given up on the possibility of finding the boy.

Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT) pilot Roan Carr-Hartley. [Sheldrick Wildlife Trust]

Missing search party

The search was out of communication, he said, making it difficult for him to locate them so they could coordinate the mission. It was while trying to locate the search party that, in his words, a miracle happened.

“Off my left wing, I saw a tiny figure below me, surrounded by a mass of shrubs and trees. I could not believe my eyes, but there he was: a tiny boy surrounded by endless wilderness. I was in shock that he was still alive and walking. I had not even begun to look for the boy; at that point, I was still searching for the group, which made it 10 times harder to believe what had just happened,” he wrote.

He began to circle overhead, keeping his eyes fixed on the boy. He circled for half an hour when the search party, attracted by his overhead moves, started moving below him.

“I opened the door of the aircraft and began pointing at the boy. They realised I had found something and began running. They eventually got to the boy, who was frozen still in disbelief that his ordeal was over.”

He believes it was a miracle as the boy happened to be standing in a small open area at the moment he decided to turn.

Elephnats at Tsavo East National Park. [File, Standard]

Teary reunion

Roan recorded the reunion moments on his camera, including the search party lifting the boy up in disbelief.

He the flew to the village where they waited for the search party.

“When I showed his mother the photos of her boy, she broke down into tears. She couldn’t believe he was still alive and was flooded with emotion, as one can imagine. The rest of the village - brothers, sisters, cousins, grandparents - all crowded around the camera, in disbelief that he had finally been found,” he said.

When the boy was safely delivered, he was dehydrated, covered in mosquito bites and scratches, and feet blistered. Doctors attended to him as the village celebrated the reunion.

“Before leaving the boy in good hands, village elders came together and gifted me a young billy goat. The goat and I flew home, feeling extremely content and grateful,” he wrote.

On social media, the story received reactions of joy and disbelief. While some took issue with the pilots alleged romanticisation of the search and rescue, including the billy goat gift, the local customs and the new nickname given to the boy, others saw a hero in him.