AN autistic boy who sparked a major search after going missing from a school trip has thanked his rescuers.

Brandon Ellis, 15, had been sitting on his own for lunch around the Blackling Hole area of Hamsterley Forest when he disappeared at about 1.50pm on Tuesday.

Emergency services including police, a police helicopter and a mountain rescue team searched for Brandon while the Forestry Commission staff and police dogs also supported them.

Press and PR officer for the Teesdale and Weardale Search and Mountian Rescue Team (TWSMRT), Scott Bisset, said the team were called in at about 3pm to help with the search.

He said: "The teenager, who had been sitting on his own for lunch disappeared at about 2pm.

"Initial expectations were that he would be located fairly quickly, however as darkness fell fears for his safety grew and more help was called for."

By early evening TWSMRT had 22 team members in the forest with three vehicles, assisted by 15 members of Cleveland Mountain Rescue Team with two vehicles, 15 members of Swaledale Mountain Rescue Team with two vehicles, 19 police officers, 2 Red Cross vehicles, fire and rescue personnel with three vehicles and the coastguard helicopter from Humberside which had to refuel at Durham Tees valley before returning to perform a second search.

At 10pm the teams took a short break in Hamsterley Village Hall where volunteers provided refreshments.

Mr Bisset added: "As the teams headed back into the forest at around 10.30pm, news came through that he had been spotted in a plantation by forestry workers who had been driving the network of access roads. The teenager was picked up and taken to safety. 

"At the post search debrief the young man came and shook hands with the searchers, seemingly non the worse for spending eight hours alone in a cold dark forest, thanking them and appearing very happy to have been saved."

Durham Police had said the force was becoming "increasingly concerned" and were appealing for help to trace the youngster.

Around 11pm the force posted on Facebook that Brandon had been found.

"We are very pleased to say that Brandon Ellis, 15, has been found safe and well," a spokesman said.

"Police would like to thank all who assisted in the search, and all who shared our appeal for information."