IT WAS the worst nightmare for a mother - the fear she would never hold her son, UK backpacker Sam Woodhead, in her arms again.It was that fear and the hope it would not come true that drove London mum Claire Derry halfway around the world to Longreach, where she yesterday held her backpacker son Sam Woodhead close, The Courier Mail reports.
Mr Woodhead was recovering in Longreach Hospital after being lost in rough scrub in near 40C heat for three days after going for a jog from the outback station where he was staying.
His family had made the decision to send Ms Derry to Australia to help with the search or, at worst, bring the 18-year-old's body home.
"He wants to go into the army or the Royal Marines and he watches a lot of those survival programs so that was the thing we were clinging to, that he would have sense."
With no news during her Singapore stopover, Ms Derry began to fear the worst on the final leg of the trip.
"Then about halfway through the flight I got a tap on the shoulder and (a steward) asked 'Are you Claire Derry?' and said 'We've got a message for you'."
"I looked at him and he was smiling all over his face, the crew member, and he said 'It's good news: we've found your son and he's alive and well'."
Met in Queensland by the family's former nanny, the pair travelled to Longreach hospital for the reunion yesterday.
"He's not able to stand but he looks fantastic, he doesn't look burnt, he's brown and tanned," a visibly relieved Ms Derry said.
Her son had lost 15kg, surviving on rationed contact lens fluid and his own urine, as his kidneys began to shut down from dehydration.
"He must have the constitution of an ox," she said.
"He had nothing to keep him going by the time the helicopter found him."
She said Mr Woodhead was disoriented when found by the EMQ rescue helicopter and did not recognise his cousin, Rob Derry, who had flown from Hong Kong to join the search.
"Rob just said 'Sam you need to clean your teeth - they are bright yellow' and that's when he realised it was his cousin," Ms Derry laughed.
But she said there were no tears at their own reunion.
"Sam is an amazingly cool guy, he just said 'Hi, Mum'. I said 'Sam, I didn't think I would ever be holding you in my arms again'."
She said the family was extremely grateful to the search teams that combed the rugged terrain for the teen.
"He's an incredibly lucky man and we're incredibly lucky that people kept on looking as long as they did," Ms Derry said.
Read more at The Courier Mail.