Rescuers found little Kenneth Howard dehydrated and wearing just a nappy near an old mine 1.6km from his family’s remote Kentucky property on Wednesday.
A photograph showing the incredible moment the child was found is going viral on social media.
But how Kenneth ended up so far from home and how he survived for so long without food and water remains a mystery because at just 22 months old, he has limited speech.
After three gruelling days grid scouring kilometres of rough terrain around the property a crew from the local fire department heard crying coming from the bottom of a steep, 15 metre incline just before 2pm.
“One of our guys heard him scream and at that point we all got quiet and a couple of guys started calling his name.
“Sporadically he was calling out, we found the location of the sound and went back and he was just sitting there.”
Chief Brown said Kenneth was found sitting in a flat area in a particularly inhospitable stretch of terrain surrounded by lots of dense foliage near a strip mine.
He was wearing just a nappy and suffering dehydration and “a few minor scrapes” but was alert and healthy given his ordeal.
Magoffin County Rescue Squad spokesman Ritt Mortimer posted a picture of the boy as he was being transported home on social media.
“He’s in remarkably good condition,” he said.
Chief Brown told reporters the boy tried to talk to his rescuers but did not know enough words to explain what happened to him.
“It was amazing,” he said. “Our crew, we were talking and these instances usually, they come out grim. But to come out with him being alive and well, it’s what gives you the courage to go on and continue.”
The rescuers had Gatorade and water with them and were able to get Kenneth to drink some before organising a helicopter to fly him to hospital to get checked out, Chief Brown said.
Crews had to use a basket and a rope to retrieve the child before flying him out, according to WKYT.
He is currently being assessed by doctors and receiving treatment for dehydration.
Kenneth was playing in the backyard of his family’s Salyersville home on Sunday when he vanished at around 7.30pm.
His father told police he turned around for a moment and when he turned back, the child was gone. The frantic dad rang police and told them he feared Kenneth had been kidnapped.
The case remains under investigation.