A four-year-old boy was left alone in a running car after his father and teenage uncle chased a chicken into the Royal National Park and became lost, sparking a 5½-hour search by emergency services.
Police said an extensive air and ground search involving officers, Police Rescue, the dog squad, PolAir and volunteers was launched after passers-by found the child by himself in a car with its lights on and engines running on McKell Avenue in Waterfall about 8.45am yesterday.
The boy was returned to his mother and rescuers said they found the 27-year-old father and his 14-year-old brother in bushland south of McKell Avenue about 2.15pm. Both were in good health, police said.
"They would have perished if they were left here tonight," Inspector Rod Rae of Sutherland Police told reporters yesterday after the search.
The father told police his brother saw the chicken on the side of the road and chased it into the bush. "He got lost in the bushes and yelled out for help and I ducked down across the road and tried to collect him," he told police, Channel Seven reported.
Police said the chicken remained close to the roadside.
"I'm amazed that it's just hung around here like a witness, but it can't talk to us unfortunately," Inspector Rae said.
A man who said he was the father wrote on Facebook this morning: "We would have never eaten that chicken, we are animal lovers and my 14 yr old brother loves animals just way too much and keeps bringing home domestic pets from friends and he was chasing a stray rabbit around our streets just the other week."
Police said about 130 bushwalkers get lost, with sometimes needed to be rescued, every year. Tips for staying safe in the bush included taking adequate food and water supplies and carrying an emergency beacon, police said.
- with Nick Ralston