Still from a clip of the teen, Felix (R), reuniting with dad Jeby Thomas in the wee hours of Monday Image Credit: Screengrab

Sharjah: For nearly 30-hours, fear and worry had gripped a family after their 18-year-old autistic boy had gone missing in Sharjah on Saturday. Thanks to an alert passenger, Felix Jeby Thomas was traced at Dubai International Airport late on Sunday night.

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Speaking to Gulf News, the teen’s father, Jeby Thomas, shared the joy of seeing his son again, and revealed the series of events that led to the reunion of the Indian expat family.

“He is safe, but exhausted,” Thomas said over the phone from Kuwaiti Hospital in Sharjah where Felix was admitted after the reunion.

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Felix loves watching airplanes - which may be the reason why he went to Dubai airport, his father said Image Credit: Supplied

A student of Al Ibtisama Centre for People with Disabilities, Felix had vanished from City Centre Sharjah where he had gone shopping with his mother and younger sister shortly after 8.30pm on Saturday. Sharjah Police had filed a missing person report based on the family’s complaint and a massive search was launched to trace the boy, who has communication challenges.

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The family, who are from the south Indian state of Kerala, had posted missing reports on social media and had approached buildings in the area to check their CCTV footage to help find him.

After spending a harrowing time for more than 24 hours, Thomas said he got a call from a Keralite who travelled to Kuwait via Terminal 1 of Dubai International Airport in the wee hours of Sunday.

“He had grown suspicious after seeing my son at the airport without any documents and nobody to accompany him. Later at night, after landing in Kuwait, he checked social media and saw the posts about Felix. He then contacted me asking if I had lost my son. That is how we got to know Felix was at the airport.”

It was around 11.30pm that Jeby got the call. He said his nephew Dijith, who was also searching for Felix, along with his friend rushed to the airport and found Felix there.

Meanwhile, the family members, who were in Sharjah, went to the hospital to receive him there.

Emotional reunion

A video shared on social media showed the emotional reunion of the father and son. The two hugged and kissed each other as Felix wore a bright smile and whispered that he was happy.

“He was relieved to see Dijith at the airport and he was very happy when he finally reached the hospital and saw me,” said Thomas.

He said Felix was too tired. “He had not slept and his legs were swollen after walking for a long time. So, we wanted to get him treated first.”

Felix was given IV (intravenous) fluids and other first aid treatment at the hospital, from where he was discharged at around 8am on Monday.

“He was still tired after reaching home and slept continuously,” the father said in the afternoon.

Thomas said he had no clue why Felix would have, apparently, walked all the way to the airport, except the fact that he loves seeing airplanes and is always excited about going on vacation.

“It looks like he might have walked some 17 to 18km. It is scary to think about how he might have walked on the highway.”

He said it was probable that Felix followed the road signs to the airport by looking at the image of the airport on the signs. “He used to be excited whenever we drove past the airport. He is getting good training from his school, but I cannot say that he can read the signboards. He can identify objects. I think he followed the image of the flight to reach the airport.”

He said the family had not sought any explanation from the teenager of determination. “We just want him to rest and recover now.”

Who is the Good Samaritan?

The father took the opportunity to thank the passenger who helped find his son and everyone else who were part of the search.

“I called him [the passenger] later and thanked him again. That is when I got to know more about him,” said Thomas.

He said the Good Samaritan passenger is Farhan, an aircraft technician with Kuwait Airways. “We cannot thank him enough for the noble deed he did. We also want to thank the police, the members of our church and the school, the team from my company, the media, friends, relatives and all the people who helped through social media and in person.”

“We are extremely happy that Felix has been reunited with his family. All of us, including our managing directors, were trying to find him. Around 100 people from the Nesto team were there in person to offer moral support to Jeby and to search for Felix,” said a spokesperson from Nesto Hypermarket where Jeby Thomas works.

The parents later went to the police station to close the case.