It happened in just the blink of an eye.
One moment cheeky toddler Lewis Waechter was playing at his mother Jos’ feet, the next he had vanished into thin air.
‘I was on a skill-tester toy vending machine and Lewis was playing with the joystick,’ the 38-year-old mum tells New Idea.
‘A gentleman I’d been talking to asked me a question, so I stepped back and turned to answer him. I heard the flap – where you pull the toys out at the bottom – move and thought Lewis was playing with it.
‘But when I looked down, there was no child. I was confused. I couldn’t understand where he’d gone.’
Jos searched around the machine and beside some nearby chairs – but Lewis had completely disappeared.
‘I was freaking out. But I knew there was no way anyone could have taken him because he was right in front of me and there was no-one else around.’
Thankfully, seconds after he vanished, Jos saw her little boy’s smiling face pop up... inside the machine!
The mum-of-two was unable to get Lewis, now 16 months, out herself so the man she’d been talking to went to find someone to help.
‘Lewis was just playing around in there, he wasn’t upset or in any danger,’ she says.
‘We were tapping on the glass and talking to him, but he was just focused on trying to climb up into the toys.’
As they waited for help to arrive, Jos says a passing woman scolded her and implied she was a bad mother.
‘The guys I was with told her not to be silly.
‘It wasn’t like I wasn’t watching him – that’s just not how it happened.’
Five minutes later, someone from the Westfield Marion Shopping Centre came to the rescue.
‘He opened the door with a key, slid it open and I picked Lewis up out of there. He thought Lewis deserved a toy for his adventures so he gave him a little devil emoji, which was pretty fitting.’
Four-year-old sister Abigail – who was watching My Little Pony at the cinema with her father Jason, 42, when the drama unfolded – thought it was hilarious when she was told.
‘She loves telling people the story of how Lewis got stuck in the claw machine,’ Jos says of the incident, which happened in November. ‘That was her show and tell for playgroup the next week.’
For the full story see this weeks issue of New Idea - out now!