Page last updated at 21:39 GMT, Wednesday, 15 July 2009 22:39 UK

Backpacker recovering in hospital

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Backpacker's father describes being reunited with his son

A backpacker who went missing for 12 days in the Australian bush is recovering in hospital.

Jamie Neale, 19, of Muswell Hill, north London, survived on nettles in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, until he was found by two hikers on Wednesday.

Mr Neale's mother said she will make sure he wears a "watch with a beacon" on his next trip. "He's not leaving the country without one," she said.

The teenager is being treated for dehydration and exposure.

Mr Neale, who is due to start a government and politics degree at Exeter University in October, was found as the police were contemplating calling off the search and his father was about to fly back to London.

The only teenager in the world who goes on a 10-mile hike and leaves his mobile phone behind
Richard Cass, father

Mrs Neale, 49, said: "I never gave up hope. As far as I was concerned he was coming home.

"He'll have one hell of a story to tell when he starts university, let's just hope he doesn't repeat it at any time."

'Very, very lucky'

Mr Neale's father, Richard Cass, who flew to Australia to join the search, was reunited with his son, who he said looked "gaunt and scratched".

Mr Cass told Australian newspaper, The Age: "The millions that have been spent on this search, the man hours that have gone into it... all because he goes out on a walk without his mobile phone.

"The only teenager in the world who goes on a 10-mile hike and leaves his mobile phone behind.''

Speaking at a press conference he admitted that he had "lost faith".

The Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains can be a very disorientating environment

"I made a little shrine for him," he said.

"I defaced your national park with his name and date of birth - he's going to come back and see his gravestone."

New South Wales Police said Mr Neale checked into the Katoomba Youth Hostel on 2 July.

He was seen the following morning but failed to return for a pre-booked cave tour, resulting in a search for him.

Personal belongings, including a phone and passport, were found still in his room.

Mr Neale had not intended to go missing, the BBC was told.

It is understood he had gone for a walk but did not know how far he had wandered into the wilderness.

He slept under trees and logs and ate nettles to survive.

The teenager was eventually found near Katoomba, nine miles from where he went missing.

'I am lost'

John Hughes, of New South Wales State Emergency Service, said: "He came out to two people who were camping in the bush and said, 'I am lost'.

"In winter we have had people lost for three days but never more than a week [and surviving].

Nick Bryant
Nick Bryant, BBC News, in Katoomba

Much of the wilderness in this popular tourist spot is dense, rugged, extremely cold in the winter and notoriously difficult to survive in if you have ventured out unprepared.

These were the challenges facing Jamie Neale.

He survived by eating seeds and vegetation.

His shelter, according to his father, was a log, and his attempts to chase down a wild horse, which he looked on as a source of food, ended in failure.

Speaking to me outside the hospital in Katoomba he spoke of his resilience and said, rather memorably, that his son was the sort of person who could run to the North Pole and back wearing only his underpants.

"This is extraordinary."

Mrs Neale said she always "stayed positive".

"He's very stubborn, he's very persistent and very resourceful, so I had no doubt that he would get through," she told the BBC.

"He just said that he wanted to hear my voice, that he didn't think he'd see me again. I told him, you don't get rid of me that easily."

Mr Neale is described in a stable condition in hospital.

A spokesman for New South Wales police told reporters the search had covered "in excess of 100 square kilometres".

"He was going for a day trip, but took 12 days to come back - very, very lucky," he said.

Jamie's aunt, Caroline Neale, said her family had felt "helpless" during the search.

BBC correspondent Phil Mercer in Sydney described Mr Neale's ordeal as "a remarkable story of resilience".

Rescuers were hampered by poor winter weather, including thick fog, rain and freezing temperatures, he said.

And the BBC's Nick Bryant in Sydney said police were on the verge of calling off the search just hours before Mr Neale was found.

The UK Foreign Office is providing consular assistance.

Map detailing the Blue Mountains, where Jamie Neale went missing



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SEE ALSO
Lost tourist's family 'helpless'
09 Jul 09 |  London
Backpacker missing in Australia
08 Jul 09 |  London

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