Miracle of the year? How lost boy, 4, survived 6 days and nights in Tsavo East National Park

for Tv47 Digital December 07, 2022, 12:09 PM
How lost boy, 4, was miraculously found 15 kilometres from his village
Members of the search party hoist teh boy in the air after finding him. PHOTO / Roan Carr-Hartley.

In Summary

  • He had gone missing during a storm while out herding livestock with his brothers. 

  • The area chief resorted to seeking aerial assistance in finding the boy calling SWT pilot Roan Carr-Hartley, people from the neighbouring town speaking about a pilot who helped find a missing child just a few days prior.

What are the odds that a four-year-old boy could survive for six days lost in the vast savanna of Tsavo East? Your guess is as good as mine ... very slim.

However, in what can be termed 'miracle of the year', the odds were beaten when a four-year-old boy from the Asa, a community that lives 52 kilometers east of the northern Tsavo East National Park boundary survived a grueling six days lost in the wilderness.

He had gone missing during a storm while out herding livestock with his brothers. 

A day later, the area chief resorted to seeking aerial assistance in finding the boy, calling SWT pilot Roan Carr-Hartley. He had heard people from the neighbouring town speaking about a pilot who helped find a missing child just a few days prior.

The pilot joined a search party of 70 men who were fanning through the wild scrubland. 

The party had tracked the boy to an area 7 kilometres from his village, but then the tracks started to become unreadable.

Since the pilot had no way of communicating with the men while in the air, he organised for the search party to walk with a white cloth tied to a long stick, which would make it easier to find them in the dense bush. 

"Four hours of scanning the sea of vegetation revealed nothing but an empty fuel tank and various animals, including hyenas and jackals. It was an unforgiving environment for any person to be alone, let alone a child so young," says Roan, as reported by Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

After refuelling, he resumed the search for another 3.5 hours before running out of daylight and having to return to base.

"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," narrates Roan.

Heavy Rain

It rained heavily that night, and the following morning, the boy’s tracks were nowhere to be seen. 

In the absence of fresh tracks and a general area to narrow down the search, the chief and the boy's family determined that the search party would continue on foot.

On the evening of December 3 - five nights after the boy went missing - the pilot received another call from the chief informing him that the ground team had re-discovered the boy's tracks, a staggering 15 kilometres from his village.

"I was in shock that the boy was still alive, let alone walking. After nearly a week of heavy rainfall, with no food and predators roaming the area, one can be forgiven for losing hope," admits Roan.

With hope rejuvenated, the search resumed but this time the search party was completely out of communication, so there was no way to ask them to signal the aircraft.

It was understandable since they themselves had been out for three days looking for the boy, surviving off milk mixed with water. He continued flying for the next hour and a half looking for the search party.

'I could not believe my eyes'

It was just as Roan was turning the aircraft that the miracle happened: Off the left wing, he saw a tiny figure below, surrounded by a mass of shrubs and trees.

It was just as Roan was turning the aircraft that the miracle happened: Off the left wing, he saw a tiny figure below, surrounded by a mass of shrubs and trees. PHOTO | Roan Carr-Hartley

"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," says the pilot.

The boy initially cowered away from the plane, then began darting under bushes and trees. Roan began circling keeping my eyes fixed on him since it can be difficult finding something once you lose sight of it in this area.

After circling for a half hour, three men, who were part of the search party and had come from kilometres away, appeared after seeing me circling for a while.

Roan opened the aircraft door and began pointing at the boy upon which they realized he had found something and started running. 

They eventually got to the boy, who was frozen still in disbelief that his ordeal was over. Upon reaching him, they lifted him above their shoulders and began cheering and chanting.

PHOTO | Roan Carr-Hartley

Finding him was a near-impossible objective, but somehow the stars aligned and the boy happened to be standing in a small, open area at the very moment the pilot decided to turn.

In the Asa people's custom, it is imperative that the search party walk back to the village with the boy, all the way chanting a song of blessing and thanks. It is also necessary that the boy’s mother and father provide food and water for the search party upon their arrival.

The search party, after carrying the boy for 18 kilometres finally arrived back home to chanting and dancing as well as an outpouring of emotions from the family.

PHOTO | Roan Carr-Hartley

Two roaming doctors attended to the boy who was covered in mosquito bites and scratches from the bristling thorn bushes. His feet were also blistered and riddled with thorns and cuts, which is little surprise given the huge distances he walked.

PHOTO | Roan Carr-Hartley

Roan Carr-Hartley, the pilot who helped find the boy was gifted a young billy goat by the village elders.

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