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'A miracle' three-year-old survived overnight ordeal - some adults wouldn't, says cop who led search

The policeman who led the search for missing three-year-old Axle Hambleyn, who spent a night in the cold bush, says it's a miracle the boy survived the ordeal, because some adults wouldn't have.

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PC Richard Reeves says Axel Hambleyn was hungry, but otherwise in a good condition after spending a night in the bush near Tolaga Bay. Source: 1 NEWS

Axle was reported missing from his rural Mangatuna home yesterday afternoon around 3pm. A dog he was believed to be with returned home alone yesterday afternoon.

Around 10.45am today Axle was found in rough terrain, calling for his mum about three or four kilometres from where he disappeared.

Temperatures in Gisborne dropped below 4 degrees Celsius, but the youngster was only wearing a nappy, a pair of gumboots and a blue t-shirt.

"Some adults wouldn't have survived that, even dressed in the right clothing. You're spending the night out without the right gear — even with the right gear is tough and it’s often fatal. So for someone that age and that size to be able to do it is a miracle," police constable Richard Reeves told 1 NEWS.

"I've got a couple of different words to describe that - disbelief, relief and just so happy that we've had an outcome so positive because nine times out of 10 you wont get an outcome like that."

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There had been a large-scale search for the child near Tolaga Bay. Source: 1 NEWS

Reeves said the plummeting temperatures were “tough elements to be in, especially dressed like that and especially with his body size”, adding that the "little fella" had only turned three a few months ago.

Reeves said there were "big cheers of joy and cries of relief" as he was reunited with family this morning. Photographs show his mum craddling him.

"He's in great condition. He's responsive, he's eating, he's saying all the right things. He was just a bit hungry was his only concern, so for someone that's done what he's done he's done better than what a lot of adults would," Reeves said.

How the boy became missing remains unclear, but Reeves said it appears he wandered off then couldn't get back home.

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Missing three-year-old was calling for his mum after spending night in rough bush, says man who found him

"He's wandered off up a track that the kids have been using up above a house here. This is only an assumption but it's the best assumption. He's got up on top and it's quite steep down the other side. He's gone up the top there, which a three-year-old should be quite capable of doing, but once he's got down that steep stuff down the other side he hasn't been able to get back up and he's just wandered, carried on down from there."

Reeves said it was one of the biggest turnouts from the community he's seen in his nearly 14 years working in the area, including from those physically searching and messages of support.

"Such a great outcome and it's not just any one person, it's been a community approach. It comes down to the chopper, people bringing food, just everyone – obviously massive concern, and just a great, great outcome."