An Ohio family of five that failed to return from an airboat excursion in the remote Everglades was found safe Friday after searchers heard them blowing whistles and an air horn.
The family was spotted by a helicopter in thick vegetation, where their airboat apparently got stuck, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Jorge Pino said. The vegetation was too dense to spot the family at ground level, even from nearby.
"We weren't able to see them, we were only able to hear them," Pino said. "They are in good condition."
The family was identified as 44-year-old Scott Schreck; his 42-year-old wife, Carrie; and their three young children. They launched their airboat Thursday morning at a wildlife management area in extreme western Miami-Dade County but did not return by nightfall.
Law enforcement, fire rescue and wildlife agencies launched a massive search, using helicopters, airplanes and at least six airboats. The area spreads over some 1,000 square miles in three counties north of Everglades National Park and is covered in tall, sharp-edged sawgrass that limits visibility.
It's also home to alligators, Florida panthers, snakes, turtles, a vast array of birds and fish. Finding a missing family in such conditions is a challenge, said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue spokesman Lt. Arnold Piedrahita Jr. The boat was painted in camouflage, making it even harder to find.
"It's like looking for a needle in a haystack," he said.
Pino said the family appeared to be in good health even after spending the night in the wilderness, which was swept by strong thunderstorms Thursday and more rain Friday. It wasn't immediately clear where the family were being taken or how they were getting out of the Everglades.
Pino said Schreck was a "savvy outdoorsman" who did the right thing by making as much noise as possible.
"If you get into that dense veget ation with an airboat, it's almost next to impossible to get out," he said.