Julio Lester Ascui family jubilant after 50-year-old hiker from Keilor Downs found in Grampians National Park

FIVE days of heartache for the family of a hiker missing in the Grampians was ended with one simple text message.

Joshua Ascui was preparing for another day of helping to search for his missing father, Julio ‘Lester’ Ascui, in the Grampians National Park around Halls Gap.

Lester, aged 50 from Keilor Downs, had gone missing on December 29.

The last his family had heard from him had been a ‘selfie’ picture posted to Facebook.

They found his Jeep sitting empty outside Halls Gap on New Year’s Day.

Lester’s son-in-law Andrew Chahine and daughter Jessica Ascui-Ordonez had taken part in a media conference on Tuesday afternoon and put on a brave face.

Privately, the family had started to talk about the possibility of making funeral arrangements.

Then at about 10.30 on Wednesday morning came the message they had hoped for.

Joshua had just arrived at his accommodation in Halls Gap for another three days of searching

“I had decided to head back to Melbourne for a break after the previous day’s hiking and as soon I got back to Halls Gap here we got a message saying ‘We found him’,” he said.

“We ran out of there and stormed straight to the CFA and jumped into the paramedic’s car to head out to the site where they found him.

“I told the paramedic ‘I don’t care what you say, I’m getting in’. 

“But then it came over the radio that they had airlifted him back to the CFA complex.”

Mr Ascui was found by Parks Victoria staff sitting next to a creek which he drank from in order to survive.

Lester was given a drink and a sandwich at the CFA complex and checked over by paramedics before being taken to Stawell Hospital.

"I was just coming to trek and I was lost for five days," Mr Ascui told reporters on Wednesday morning.

Mr Ascui said he was looking forward to a “quick shower” and he had “plenty” of cuts and bruises

“It’s very rough, the bush over there,” he said. 

About 25 friends and family members had been joining in the search for Lester over the past few days.

They were having to rotate in and out of accommodation in Halls Gap, as beds in the popular tourist destination were in short supply during the summer peak season.

Most friends and family arrived at Halls Gap’s CFA complex were still dressed in activewear or hiking clothes and carrying walking sticks.

Minutes before the good news they had planned to start searching for Lester.

Some members of the unofficial search team had already spread out across the National Park and had no mobile reception when the news broke.

Joshua joked with family members that they would cut off Lester’s subscription to the Discovery Channel.

“No more Bear Grylls,” Joshua said, referring to the British adventurer famous for parachuting into wilderness areas and filming his journey back to safety.

“That’s it.”

Within an hour of Lester’s arrival in Halls Gap being filmed by TV crews, the footage was being broadcast in his birthplace of Chile in South America.

Joshua said Lester was in good spirits despite his ordeal.

“He’s pretty banged up but surprisingly he’s still got a smile on his face,” Joshua said.

“He’s quite dehydrated, a lot of scratches on his face and whole body.

“He had planned to be out there for the day. He didn’t have extra clothes or water.”

Joshua said it had been “pretty disturbing” to think about his father being out in the bush during the recent cold nights in just a t-shirt and shorts.

“The paramedics said ‘mate, we’re surprised at how well you’re doing right now with you missing for five days,” Joshua said.

“As soon as I saw him I rushed over and gave him a big hug, a big kiss.”

“He said ‘I’m OK, I’m OK’.”

Once Lester had departed for hospital, friends and family stayed at the CFA complex catching up with each other and thanking emergency services.

Lester’s family members hugged and danced and greeted each other in a mixture of Spanish and English as tourists and residents honked their horns in celebration from the Grampians Road thoroughfare.

Some of the SES and Park Victoria rescuers leaned in the shade with ice creams from the catering trucks that had been brought in to fuel the search effort.

Victoria Police had deployed two helicopters and was ready to send in mounted officers from the temporary command past that had now taken on a party atmosphere.

Halls Gap Sergeant Karen Bain said finding Lester had been one of the most memorable moments of her time in policing. 

“It’s just elation, honestly,” she said.

“I’ve been in the job a long time but I’ve never had anything like this, to have such a good result after such a long search.

“I’d really like to thank Parks Victoria, the volunteers and the community. It has been such a team effort. It’s amazing.”

Lester thanked Sergeant Bain multiple times after he was brought to the CFA complex.

“This lady, she organised everything,” he said.