Freed Taliban hostage Timothy Weeks says he never gave up hope during his "long and tortuous" three years in captivity in Afghanistan.
Speaking in public for the first time since his release almost two weeks ago, Mr Weeks has thanked all those who helped secure his freedom.
The 50-year-old Australian academic had spent lengthy periods in the dark in tiny, windowless cells at remote locations after being grabbed outside Kabul's American University in 2016.
His long-awaited release in November followed six previous unsuccessful attempts to by US Special Forces to free him, he told reporters.
Emerging from a dust cloud under the blades of a Black Hawk helicopter, a US Navy Seal took Mr Weeks under his arm as he led him to freedom.
"From the moment I sighted both Black Hawk helicopters and was placed in the hands of Special Forces, I knew my long and tortuous ordeal had come to an end," he said in Sydney on Sunday, flanked by his sisters Jo and Alyssa Carter.
"Out of a big dust cloud came six Special Forces and they walked towards us and one of them stepped towards me and he just put his arm around me and he held me and he said, 'Are you ok?' And then he walked me back to the Black Hawk."
Moments earlier Mr Weeks had parted with his Taliban guards, even hugging some of them as they wished him well.
Speaking of previous rescue attempts, Mr Weeks said "a number of times they missed us only by hours".
One particular attempt in April had Mr Weeks fearing for his life as his captors brought him into an underground tunnel in the early hours of the morning, telling him Daesh (IS) had arrived, when in fact it was the Navy Seals "right outside our door".
Machine gun fire raged above and he at one point lost consciousness, having been pushed backwards and rolled into the tunnel.
It was nine months before he would finally become a free man.
He said he bore no hatred towards his captors, even respecting some of them whom he described as "compassionate, lovely".
Thanking those involved in his release, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison and US President Donald Trump, Mr Weeks said he has been changed completely by the experience.
"The time that I spent as a hostage with the Taliban has had a profound and unimaginable effect on me," he said.
His voice breaking, he said: "At times I felt as if my death was imminent and that I would never return to see those that I love again but by the will of God I am here, I am alive and I am safe and I am a free. There is nothing else in the world that I need."
Despite the gravity of what he endured, Mr Weeks said he never lost hope .
"I had hope the whole time. I knew that I would leave that place eventually," he said.
Mr Weeks, a teacher from Wagga Wagga, arrived back in Australia on Thursday night after being transferred from a US military base in Germany.
His American colleague Kevin King, who was held hostage alongside him, is still undergoing treatment.
They were released in exchange for three members of the Taliban's Haqqani network, an offshoot responsible for several fatal Afghan attacks.
Mr Weeks said he felt "great joy" at the recommencement of peace talks between the US and Afghanistan governments and the Taliban.
He appealed for privacy for his family, saying the ordeal had especially taken a toll on his father. He added that he hopes to return to academic study in the future but will take a well-deserved holiday first.
The experience has left him feeling "stronger", with a belief that he can get through anything.
"It's given me a great sense of hope and a great sense of confidence," he said.
Alyssa Carter said the emotional family reunion after almost 1200 days was "incredible", while Jo Carter said what her brother had been through was "unimaginable".
Australian Associated Press