A Virginia man, who disappeared while on a solo kayaking trip in the Everglades National Park, was covered in mud, hypothermic and convulsing as rescuers found him Monday.
Mark Miele, 67, of Williamsburg, Virginia, was located shortly before noon Monday by searchers with the Collier County Sheriff's Office. He left for his trip on Jan. 22 and was due back on Jan. 29.
After Miele’s bag, with his wallet and phone, washed up on the bank of the Lopez River and was found by park rangers on Sunday, deputies worked with the National Parks Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to locate the missing man.
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To find Miele, deputies downloaded data from his phone Sunday night and found his most recent coordinates logged on Jan. 31. Then the sheriff’s office aviation unit began a targeted search of the area.
The aviation unit located Miele and guided rescuers in the water to his location, which was a few miles from where his belongings were found.
Aviation Pilot Ed Henderson, of the Collier County Sheriff's Office, was flying the helicopter that spotted Miele in the water.
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Miele’s rescue was unique for the aviation unit because of the amount of time Miele had been missing and because in most rescues the victim contacts authorities themselves when they get lost, Henderson said.
"They are looking to be rescued and they call us and know we are coming usually," Henderson said. "A lot of times they just simply get lost. There are other times when they are not real keen on the tides, and they might get stuck on a low tide."
This was not the case in the rescue mission for Miele as his phone, camping gear and other belongings were found washed away.
Henderson spotted Miele floating along in water that was about 18 to 24 inches deep, Henderson said.
Because Miele was in the water with his personal flotation device on, he was easier to locate. Miele was covered from head to toe in mud once he was pulled aboard one of the two rescue vessels, Henderson said.
When Henderson first spotted him, it appeared Miele was waving and shaking his hands at the helicopter, Henderson said.
"Later we found out he was convulsing because he was severely dehydrated, hypothermic and he was in such bad shape at the time," Henderson said. "I was told by the rescuers on the boats that he couldn't even really have a conversation."
When he first set out on the rescue mission, Henderson said he had his doubts that Miele would be found alive.
"It's really a feeling of elation when you are able to find somebody alive knowing the circumstances that they were in," Henderson said. "Everything happens for a reason and we were fortunate that we found him. We were certainly fortunate that we found him alive. It was hard work by everybody."
Miele’s family is grateful to have him back safe and thanked his rescuers in a statement released by the sheriff’s office on their behalf on Tuesday.
"We couldn’t have worked with a more wonderful, caring, kind, and straightforward group of people," the family said in the statement. "It’s a miracle he’s alive and in the condition he is in. We would also like to thank the professionals at Physicians Regional Hospital (Collier Boulevard) for their competency and caring ways."
This story originally published to naplesnews.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.