On February 23, 2015, at approximately 3:30 pm, the Refuge Visitor Center received a call from a kayaker who advised that her 63-year old husband had not returned from the Refuge canoe trail. Federal Wildlife Officers (FWO) Scott Engstler and Jake Tuttle responded and met with the reporting person. She stated stated that she and her cousin and the missing person had entered the canoe trail around 11:30 am and returned around 2:30 pm. While returning to the canoe launch they had lost sight of her husband. She stated her husband was 63 years old, in excellent physical shape and had food and water with him. She also stated her husband was in early stages of dementia.
FWOs Engstler and Tuttle launched an airboat to search for the subject. At around 5:00 pm Supervisory FWO William Calvert was notified by FWO Engstler, and the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office (PBSO) helicopter was requested to assist using Forward Looking Infrared. For the next two hours the missing subject could not be found and the PBSO helicopter had just returned to the search area after refueling. At 7:30 pm, SFWO Calvert arrived on the scene and met with the family of the missing. SFWO Calvert also called the PBSO Marine Unit to assist with airboats for a search and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission to assist. At 10:00 pm, U.S. Coast Guard Miami was asked to send a second helicopter to the scene. The PBSO helicopter had refueled for a third time.
Two helicopters, seven boats and 13 law enforcement officers searched around 10 square miles and did not locate the missing subject or his kayak.
At 1:30 am the following day the search was called off by SFWO Calvert and PBSO. Two USFWS airboats, two PBSO airboats and the PBSO helicopter resumed the search at 7:00 am.
At approximately 8:45, the PBSO helicopter located the subject waving a red cloth in the saw grass. FWO Tuttle and Maintenance Mechanic Donny Campbell arrived and located the missing person as the PBSO helicopter hovered. SFWO Calvert and FWO Engstler arrived seconds later. The subject was lifted into the airboat and checked by SFWO Calvert. The subject was alert and the only injuries he appeared to have were multiple cuts on his legs from walking in the saw grass.
The subject stated he thought he was camping and even stated what he had for breakfast. He stated he saw the boats and helicopters the previous night but did not think they were looking for him. He was transported to the Lee Road boat ramps where Palm Beach County Fire Rescue was waiting.
SFWO Calvert wants to thank FWOs Engstler and Tuttle, Maintenance Mechanic Campbell, the PBSO Marine Unit, FWC Officers and the US Coast Guard for a job well done!!