SYDNEY – A British teenager lost for 12 days while hiking in Australia's Blue Mountains was found alive and well Wednesday, just hours before his father — who had all but given up hope of ever seeing him again — planned to fly back to England.
Two other hikers happened upon 19-year-old Jamie Neale on Wednesday morning in the mountains, 60 miles west of Sydney, New South Wales state police said. Neale, an experienced hiker, was taken to a hospital in the mountain town of Katoomba for treatment of dehydration and exposure, but otherwise appeared fine, police said.
Neale's father, Richard Cass, who had traveled to Australia to help search for his son, was at the airport waiting to board his flight back to England on Wednesday when he got an urgent text message from police.
"It said 'Phone me, I've got good news.' The words 'good news' told me everything. That was when I knew he was safe. I didn't actually turn cartwheels until I'd phoned him and spoke to him," Cass told reporters in Katoomba, after being reunited with his son at the hospital. "It was absolutely stunning. I'm at the airport. I'm surrounded by strangers. My brother was there and I'm like a lunatic — 'My boy's been found, my boy's been found!"'
Cass said his son told him he slept one night under a log, and other nights "huddled up in his jacket."
Neale, who arrived in Australia for a vacation on June 22, checked into a hostel in Katoomba on July 2 and was last seen the following day. His personal belongings, including his mobile phone, were found in his room. Police, emergency services workers and wildlife officials launched a massive search for him, but hopes for his survival had been all but lost by Wednesday.
It was not immediately clear how Neale lost his way.
Although thrilled by his son's miraculous survival, Cass had a few harsh words for the teen.
"I'm going to kick his arse," Cass told reporters. "The millions that have been spent on this search, the man hours and woman hours that have gone into it ... all because he goes out on a walk without his mobile phone. The only teenager in the world who goes on a 10-mile hike and leaves his mobile phone behind."