A 3-year-old boy has been rescued from being lost in the woods amidst extreme weather conditions – and he credits his survival to an unlikely friend he apparently made along the way.

Casey Hathaway first went missing from his great-grandmother’s backyard in Ernul, North Carolina when he was playing outside with his two siblings last Tuesday. When his relative eventually called for the children to come inside, Casey was mysteriously absent.

The family searched the surrounding area for 45 minutes before they called 911.

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For the next two days, dozens of volunteers, rescue workers, law enforcement officials, drones, and FBI agents searched over 1,000 acres of treacherous terrain in order to find the boy.

Freezing temperatures, wind and rain eventually forced emergency responders to call off the search and send volunteers home until weather conditions improved.

Then on Thursday night, the Craven County Sheriff’s Office received a tip from a local who heard a little boy crying for his mother.

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The tip led rescuers 50 yards into the woods where Casey was tangled in some thorny bushes on the other side of a river. The boy was soaked, but in relatively good shape.

After getting the boy some water and reuniting him with his family, rescuers were surprised to hear Casey say that he survived the ordeal thanks to a friendly bear that kept him safe.

“Casey is healthy, smiling and talking. He said he hung out with a bear for two days,” Casey’s aunt Breanna Hathaway wrote in a Facebook post. “God sent him a friend to keep him safe. God is a good God. Miracles do happen.”

Even though no one is able to confirm whether this bear friend was real or imaginary, Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes told WCTI in the interview below that it was nothing short of astonishing that such a tiny youngster was able to endure two days of freezing temperatures and rain.

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The boy was treated for his cuts and bruises at the Carolina East Medical Center, but was otherwise found to be healthy and in good spirits.

“It’s a really overwhelming feeling that he’s back and he’s alive,” family member Heather Garris told WTVD. “I know that’s really shocked the whole community. It’s an eye-opener, definitely for a miracle – believing in miracles because I’ve seen now they really do happen.”

(WATCH the WCTI interview with Hughes below) – Photo released by Craven County Sheriff’s Department

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