A massive search for a missing 1-year-old boy ended with tears of joy from his parents Wednesday after he remarkably survived with only dehydration following nearly three days outside in the Kentucky hills near his home.
Rescuers told NBC News affiliate WSAZ that when they found 22-month-old Kenneth Howard sitting on a 50-foot rock ledge a quarter mile from his home in Magoffin County, the brave little boy kept repeating, "Here all night."
Howard spent more than 60 hours alone and outside after wandering off from his family's home on Mother's Day. A search involving the state police and more than 300 volunteers ultimately returned him safely to his parents.
"It's the best thing that's ever happened to me in my life,'' the boy's father, Elden Howard, told NBC affiliate WSAZ.
Volunteers scoured the area on foot and horseback near an old strip mine about a mile from the family's home in search of the boy. Police also used K-9 dogs and helicopters to detect any sign of Howard, who was found when rescuers heard him crying.
"This was like somebody dropping a big boulder on you when he left,'' his father said. "Now it's like somebody picked it up off of you."
Rescuers said Howard was dehydrated but otherwise in surprisingly good condition given the ordeal. He was airlifted to Cabell Huntington Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia, to be evaluated.
His father, who told WSAZ he had feared Kenneth had been abducted, was overcome with emotion when he heard the news that his son had been found.
"'I said, 'That's my boy,''' he said. "Tickled me to death."
The Kentucky State Police are still investigating the circumstances surrounding the boy's disappearance. Family members believe he may have walked out the back door of the house while his father was in the front yard.
Chief Carter Conley of the Magoffin County Rescue Squad was thankful to have a positive resolution after the extensive search.
"I have been on a lot (of rescue operations), and this was one of few that were successful,'' he said.