5 May 2021

Tolaga police recall moment 'tough little bugger' Axle found

From Checkpoint, 5:41 pm on 5 May 2021

Three-year-old boy Axle is a "tough little bugger," Tolaga Bay police constable Richard Reeves says, after the toddler was found about 3.5km from home, nearly 22 hours after he went missing.

The toddler wandered off from his Mangatuna home near Tolaga bay at about 1pm on Tuesday, wearing his shark gumboots, a nappy and a t-shirt.

Overnight temperatures in the area were around 7C.

Nobody knows Axle's exact route, but he had gone several kilometres over rugged terrain.

"He's been found safe and well, no health problems with hypothermia or anything, just hungry," Tolaga Bay police constable Richard Reeves told Checkpoint.  

Reeves said he could not believe it, "not for how cold it was and how little he is".  

"He'd just been found off a gut [small gully] off one of the forestry tracks … about 3.5km from the house. He got down into a little gut and [wasn't] able to get out by the looks. 

"It's quite steep and overgrown scrubby, it's forestry but it's got a whole lot of undergrowth and bits and pieces.  

"[Axle] had gone up over the top of the hill above the house along the ridge line and then fallen down the bank on the other side, I think, and hasn't been able to get back up," Reeves said.  

"He's only just turned three. I'm in disbelief myself. I can't believe the outcome we've had considering what's happened, it was pretty cold here last night.  

"It was clear but cold, about 7C. We had between 120 and 150 people, maybe 100 community volunteers and then the trained Search and Rescue guys were here swimming the river and all sorts."  

Axle's reunion with his parents was big with everyone cheering and clapping, Reeves said.  

"It was a little ceremony, and he's been stuffing his face ever since. 

"We've had such a great outpouring from the community, not just Tolaga but from Gisborne, with food and people supporting with the search. There's been the fire brigade and a number of different people that have brought quite a bit of food into the place." 

Reeves was at the house with the family when Axle was found.  

"Just sighs of relief and a big cheer, and tears of joy from his mother." 

He said he got a couple of phone calls from the searchers who were with the toddler.  

Reeves has been in many search and rescue efforts before, he said.  

"This is up there with, I'm not going to call it luck because he's more than lucky.  

"He's obviously managed to survive a cold night in a nappy and a t-shirt. He's a tough little bugger.  

"You don't usually get an outcome like this after a night we've had, with his age and the conditions. 

"It's a one in a million really." 

The family are very happy, relived and thankful, he said.  

Searcher Peter Hughes who found Axle brought him back to the family. Reeves said the boy had acted like nothing had happened, he was just hungry.  

"Snot on his face, a few pine needles stuck to him, a soiled nappy and that was it. 

"You can get a big fella like me go into the bush… even with the right gear and to do a night out in the elements like that, it's going to take a toll on you." 

Reeves said he was feeling tired now the adrenaline had worn off, but he is relieved and grateful for all the people who volunteered their time, food and support in the search.