A British teenager is “back from the dead” after surviving 12 days in Australia’s unforgiving wilderness by eating seeds and sleeping under his jacket, his father said yesterday.
An exhausted and dehydrated Jamie Neale, 19, was discovered by chance by two hikers in the rugged Blue Mountains west of Sydney, ending an ordeal that began when he set off for a solo trek to the Ruined Castle rock formation on July 3.
TV news showed Neale sporting a beard and looking bewildered as he arrived at Katoomba Hospital in the Blue Mountains, wearing a police uniform for warmth.
Neale’s father Richard Cass, who flew out from Britain, had given up the search and was about to board his flight home when he was told the news.
“I had my little closure ceremony in the park. I carved his name, lit a candle, buried a red rose for England — and he’s come back from the dead!” he said.
But while hugely relieved, Cass also had some choice words about the ordeal that Neale had put his family and rescue workers through.
“When I’ve seen the mistake after mistake he’s made — I can’t say I’d kill him because it would just spoil the point of him being back,” Cass said.
“I’m going to kick his arse. 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,” Cass said.
A major search party had been scouring the remote Jamison Valley for Neale, using helicopters and dogs, as well as police, fire fighters, park rangers and emergency service volunteers.
The harsh terrain is popular with bush walkers, but can be deadly. A 17-year-old hiker died after becoming lost on a trek at the brutal height of summer in 2006.
Cass said his son ate seeds and lettuce-like weeds to survive, huddling under his jacket at night and waving it at passing search helicopters.
“Every time that helicopter flew over he was worried. He did think he was going to die, he was that scared,” he said.
A police spokesman said it was a “miracle” that Neale, who was on his first ever bush walk, had survived.
“It’s just such a wilderness, it’s a fantastic effort to survive a few days let alone 12 days in that sort of environment,” he said. “It’s almost a miracle.”
Neale’s mother Jean said she never gave up hope for her son, whom she described as emotional when they spoke yesterday.
“He just said, ‘Hello, mum.’ He was nearly in tears,” Neale told Sky News from north London. “He said he didn’t think he’d ever see me again and it was just so good to hear my voice. I told him you don’t get rid of me that easily.”
Neale was planning to visit Southeast Asia and Russia before starting university, “but he can forget that now,” his father said.