The family of South African toddler Daphne Kalooki on Wednesday discovered that their little girl had been missing for three days. Alyssa Cheek, Daphne’s aunt, released a statement confirming that the 4-year-old had been found safe and well in the sea, clinging to a buoy while she was living on an island off the coast of O’Malley Island in the Great Barrier Reef.
Daphne’s uncle, Cyril Kugelman, told media outlets that the family, including her father, were attempting to dive down to the girl’s shipwrecked body to recover her after a rescue crew found the little girl clinging to the buoy.
But, shortly after the search came to an end on Wednesday afternoon, news broke that the little girl had been found. “My name is Cleo, it’s not Daphne,” she told rescuers, according to a news release from Queensland Police. “I am alive.”
“The joy in the family is complete,” Queensland Police spokesman Sergeant Andrew Smith said. “They were absolutely torn at the disappointment and sadness that they could not retrieve her body.”
According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, rescuers began searching for Daphne on Saturday. Police said she was wearing a pink gumboots and a purple singlet when she went missing. The 4-year-old, a South African citizen, was reportedly heading to her grandmother’s house when she fell into the water.
The girl was reportedly identified by her mother, who was accompanying her in a nearby boat. Authorities had feared that the child might have drowned.
“You just see the massive smile on the family’s face,” Smith said. “It’s just a happy ending.”
The Australia Post suspended all parcels on O’Malley Island due to concerns that they would collide with the little girl. According to Fairfax Media, Maritime Safety Queensland sought permission to use a ship to try to rescue Daphne. The rescue boat – a 52-foot vessel – and diver that responded to the child’s distress call were all part of the rescuer group known as Sea Rescue Queensland. The rescue also involved authorities from Queensland’s Surf Life Saving Australia. The little girl had already been rescued in the area on Saturday and Sunday and was able to hang on to a buoy while she awaited her rescue.
The Mail on Sunday reported that relatives traveled all the way from South Africa to assist in the search. “There was a huge hope that she was alive,” father Ceneta Bulebe said. “At the moment, she’s with her family.”
On Tuesday, it was announced that a man was arrested and charged for allegedly using the internet to lure children with fake messages that enticed them into meeting.
Reports said the men charged identified themselves using a “wedding” website. “I must tell you, my name is Cleo,” Daphne told rescuers, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.