A 4-year-old autistic girl who went missing yesterday smiled and asked for her mother when her rescuers found her shivering next to a tree last night.
Hailey Alver was this morning playing at her home in Dargaville after she went missing for six hours yesterday. She was finally found by rescuers in a dense pine forest 600m from her house at about 9.45pm.
More than 40 people were involved in the search, including neighbours, police search and rescue officers, volunteers from LandSAR and Fire Service staff. Two helicopters also scoured the area.
Hailey's mother, Kerry Turek, said her daughter had disappeared "in a flash".
"Her father had put her in the car and then gone inside to get another child to get the other kids from the school bus.
"He came back outside moments later and she was gone, which was strange because she normally loves being in the car."
Ms Turek said they had to watch Hailey closely. "She runs as though it's a game. She has no idea."
She added: "She slept fine last night and is happily playing this morning, completely oblivious to everything that happened."
Ms Turek thanked everyone who helped in the search: "All the neighbours came to see if we needed help as well. They drove up and down looking around for her and searched their sheds and places like that for her.
"We're all so relieved to have her home safe and well."
Search and rescue members were scouring a dense pine forest when they heard small noises, which led them to Hailey who was standing by a pine tree.
Police said Hailey gave her rescuers a big smile when they found her.
Sergeant Craig Curnow said: "One of the rescuers picked her up for a big cuddle. She was very cold but smiling, and kept asking for her mum."
He said "we threw everything we had at finding Hailey".