Paramedic Stu Gourlay is winched down from the Toll NSW Ambulance Rescue helicopter to Eli and Hannah Jones; and the scene of the rescue operation. Image credit: NSW Police

Eli and Hannah Jones, 14 and 12, went for a bushwalk at 2:30pm on 27 December.

The children from Sydney’s eastern suburbs had joined their father on an end-of-year holiday at Kains Flat, a small rural location 30 kilometres northwest of Mudgee.

By sunset, Eli and Hannah hadn’t returned and their worried father called for help.

Within an hour paramedics and police were on the scene setting up a Command Post and dispatching search parties from the Mudgee Volunteer Rescue Association.

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter from Tamworth joined in the search in difficult dark and misty conditions.

All efforts on that night were to no avail, as word that the children were missing spread quickly around the Mudgee area and through Sydney’s Jewish community.

The next day, Inspector Jed Gollan from Dubbo took over the forward command for NSW Ambulance. By that time an army of searchers had descended on Kains Flat.

“The community response for this search was just amazing,” Jed said.

“There were local volunteers, even people on horseback.

"It was as though the whole area was out looking for these kids. People had driven up from Sydney too.”

One of those volunteers was Rabbi Dr Dovid Slavin, a NSW Ambulance Chaplain and family friend who’d been holidaying several hours away in Oberon.

“It felt like the whole of Mudgee was mobilised,” Rabbi Dovid said.

“People from the Bondi area joined in with locals.

The teamwork between the emergency services and the community members was palpable. It really instilled confidence in the family that the children would be found.”

The emergency services command post at Kains Flat near Mudgee, where a major rescue operation was mounted for two children lost in bushland.

By mid-morning the Toll Ambulance Rescue helicopter had been dispatched to the search from Bankstown, with Critical Care Paramedic Stu Gourlay, Pilot Lachlan, Air Crewman Jordan, Dr Abs on board.

“After about 40 minutes of searching the pilot very excitedly announced that he had spotted a kid in a pink shirt,” Stu said.

“Sure enough as we came overhead we saw that the children were waving and appeared uninjured.

Stu was winched in to access the kids, who were incredibly relieved to see him.

“A few tears and hugs were shared, and it was obvious that apart from a few scratches and bruises that these kids were in pretty good shape,” he said.

Stu said the hardest part and best part of the job was witnessing the emotional outburst of relief from their mother.

“I think I’ve been carrying a lot of stress myself over the last few months and found it quite cathartic sharing a few tears of relief myself,” he said.

“It’s not often we get to be involved in a great outcome but it’s such a good feeling when we do. This was a great Christmas present for a lot of people.

“A big shout out to Inspector Guy and his team in Western Ops and NSW Police Rescue who are always so welcoming and seamlessly integrate us into their team.”

Inspector Jed Gollan briefed Nine News on NSW Ambulance’s role in the rescue with a deep sense of relief in his voice.

“Reuniting Eli and Hannah with their parents was a great moment for everyone,” Jed said.

“I can’t praise highly enough the efforts of the volunteers and volunteer agencies – the NSW State Emergency Service, the NSW Rural Fire Service and the NSW Volunteer Rescue Association for their work.”

As the search was wrapping up, Rabbi Dovid sought out as many searchers as he could to thank them for their efforts on behalf of the Jones family.

“It was a beautiful feeling to be a part of this and to see the kindness of people,” he said.

“Everyone was proud to be a part of this incredible collaboration.”