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Missing 3-year-old boy has emotional reunion with father after a night in the woods

Zachary Rutherford wandered off from his family's Alabama home and was missing for 12 hours.
/ Source: TODAY

A 3-year-old boy who spent the night in the woods near his Alabama home after going missing for nearly 12 hours shared a gripping hug with his father after he was found by authorities on Tuesday morning.

Zachary Rutherford was reported reported missing when he wandered off from the family's home in Tallassee area around 7:30 p.m on Monday. He was found around sunrise on Tuesday, officials told NBC affiliate WSFA.

A video shot by Heith Ritter McCracken, a volunteer who helped search for the boy, showed the emotional moment when father and son were reunited.

The boy was transported to safety on an ATV with rescue workers, who brought him to his grateful father. Search group the Cajun Navy wrote on Facebook that a volunteer named Ben Ready first spotted the boy.

The Cajun Navy is a group of volunteers who assist in search and water rescue and have become known for their work in various states across the country after catastrophic storms and hurricanes.

The search involving a rescue team, dogs and a helicopter ended with Zachary being found safe in the woods of Elmore County in an area five miles east of Wetumpka, Elmore County Sheriff Bill Franklin told WSFA.

Zachary had run off while playing in the yard of their home with their yellow Labrador retriever. The dog then returned around 10 p.m. without the boy, Franklin said.

"He had some scratches and bruises, but he's going to be OK," Franklin told The Montgomery Advertiser. "We were very concerned after we suspended the search early Tuesday morning that we had not found him. It was decided to send everyone home and get back at it at first light.

"One of the teams found him right after sunup. He was asleep on the ground and they literally just walked up on him."