CRAVEN COUNTY, N.C. – It took three harrowing days for a search team to find Casey Hathaway alive.
Facing heavy rain, gusty winds and low visibility, rescuers and law enforcement combed the difficult Craven County, North Carolina, terrain — focusing on up to 1,000 acres of heavily wooded areas.
On day three, a tip led the search team to a spot where they were able to hear the 3-year-old calling out for his mother, Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes told reporters at a news conference Thursday night.
They followed his call 40 to 50 yards into the woods, through water, to find Hathaway tangled in vines and thorns, Hughes said.
He was cold, authorities said, but alive and responsive. Hathaway was taken to a hospital where he is expected to be released on Friday or Saturday.
The boy told deputies that he spent two days hanging out with a bear, according to WNCT.
His family searched for him for 45 minutes before calling 911, Hughes said.
“He was walking in the woods back there and we can’t find him,” his great-grandmother told the 911 dispatcher. “The other ones come through the house but left him there and he walked off somewhere and we can’t find him.”
Search and rescue teams from across the state immediately came together to brave the treacherous terrain and low temperatures hoping to find Hathaway.
The FBI, NCIS, dozens of volunteers and the US Marine Corps also joined the effort to find the boy, Hughes said.
Authorities employed helicopters, drones and K-9 units, Craven County Emergency Management Director Stanley Kite said. Divers also assessed nearby ponds, WTVD reported.
The boy authorities described as 25 pounds and 2 feet 4 inches tall was stuck out in conditions so bad that volunteers were turned away from the search.
Hughes said his team was concerned about the “extreme cold” as temperatures dipped near freezing, but against all odds, they found him.
“It was folks giving us tips and leads,” Hughes said. “We hit every one of them immediately and it paid off.”
Already asking to watch Netflix
Hathaway is receiving medical treatment for cuts and scrapes at Carolina East Medical Center, said Shelley Lynch, spokeswoman for the FBI Charlotte field office.
But, police say, he is in good spirits and has been reunited with his family.
“He’s good, he’s up and talking,” Hathaway’s mother told reporters. “He’s already asked to watch Netflix, so he’s good.”
What was really special was how Hathaway brightened up when his little sister was brought in to see him, Hughes said.
Hughes said there is no sign of abduction in this case.