A three-year-old boy has been found safe and sound after he wandered away from his Vancouver Island home Sunday night, sparking a frantic overnight search. Toddler Lochlan McKenzie was reportedly playing outside his home at Union Bay, near Courtenay, when he went missing at around 8 p.m.
At some point, he crossed the Island Highway and was riding a slider or push bike, according to police.
A massive ground and aerial search operation involving Comox Valley RCMP and SAR crews Nanaimo, Cowichan, Powell River, Campbell River, the Alberni Valley and Ladysmith was launched.
Drones, canine units and police on horseback were also deployed to aid search efforts.
Searchers scoured the area throughout the night and into Monday morning.
Around 11 a.m., searchers confirmed Lochlan had been found safe, apparently hiding under a berry bush where he was eating berries throughout the night.
“He was looking after himself and had a face full of berries,” said Comox Valley Ground SAR spokesman Paul Berry. “He’s in good shape. Temperatures overnight were warm…Clearly he’s a resourceful young lad.”
He credited a massive coordinated response from various first responders for the successful result.
Lochlan’s father, Darius McKenzie, said he was trying to stay focused on the search instead of thinking about possible tragic outcomes.
“In the back of my mind I was thinking of other potential outcomes and I just knew I needed to keep looking,” he said. But when a police helicopter flew above him with a loudspeaker, he heard the only words he wanted to hear.
“They got on their loudspeaker and they’re calling down to me saying they found him and to go home,” he said. “People were honking on their horns, and it was amazing.”
Brian Fletcher, member of the six-person crew that found the youngster, said the boy was discovered about four kilometres from his home in a heavily forested area.
“He didn’t look tired, he was still pedalling,” said Fletcher. “We just treated him with licorice and Gatorade and he was all happy.”
He’s too young now, but the savvy three-year-old was encouraged by those who found him to “pay it forward” by signing up for search and rescue when he comes of age, Fletcher said.
“He’s definitely go the energy to do it,” he said. “He’s already passed the one test of staying overnight by himself, so he’s halfway there.” The search lasted roughly 14 hours.