EVERGLADES CITY, Fla - A massive search for a missing North Carolina man in Everglades National Park has a happy ending.
Thursday evening, Robert Charles, 71, and his friend Harry Shaw were canoeing near Pavilion Island when the weather took a turn for the worst.
"He got blown away," says Shaw. "He wound up beaching on a little key. He was safe, but had no contact with each other. After a couple hours, I called 911."
That's when Collier County dispatch launched its Maritime Emergency Response Team (MERT).
"It's a two fire boat response and various law enforcement agencies as well," says Ochopee Fire Captain Caleb Morris. "We all work under one unified command."
Ultimately, it was a Coast Guard chopper out of Miami that spotted Charles, all because he was waving a flashlight from a tiny island.
"One of the key factors in us finding Mr. Charles himself was the fact that he had a flashlight on him," says Lt. Michael Dubinski, a co-pilot with the USCG in Miami. "We were flying around with our night vision goggles on. Seeing that flashlight sends out a huge light in our direction."
Once crews spotted Charles, choppy waters and low tide made the rescue mission by boat impossible. "At that point, the Coast Guard made the call to extract the guy with the helicopter," says Captain Morris.
The Coast Guard chopper brought Charles to the Naples Airport where he was all smiles and thankful to be back on dry land. "I was concerned for him, but I knew he was an experienced outdoorsman, was probably holed up somewhere, but just not knowing was cause to get some help," says Shaw.