COLLIER COUNTY — The first eleven times searchers passed the small pond, they found nothing unusual.
The twelfth time, they found their man.
Jamey Mosch, the 30-year-old hunter lost in the thick swamplands of Big Cypress National Preserve since Monday, was finally rescued after days of walking the punishing terrain, perhaps inadvertently eluding the men and women trying to rescue him.
By Friday morning, when rescuers found him, Mosch had been slowed by his own exhaustion, dehydration and possible injury. He had lost his camouflage clothing, his shotgun and even his sense of time.
“We told him it was Friday, and he was absolutely devastated,” said Sgt. David Pitts of the DeSoto Correctional Institution. “He thought it was Tuesday.”
But he was alive and in good shape.
The celebration traveled as fast as the news.
An airboat pilot gave reporters a thumbs up. Searchers honked car horns and applauded. A family finally found some relief.
“Oh, we went nuts,” said Mosch’s mother, Maureen Mosch-Whitney.
“Everyone started crying,” said his twin sister, Julie Crawford.
Fellow hunters first reported Mosch missing on Monday night. The longtime hunter and recent Florida transplant was a late addition to their group, joining them near Bear Island Campground, a remote area north of Interstate 75 and east of Turner River Road.
Against his companions’ advice, Mosch entered the woods to hunt alone around 1:30 p.m. on Monday.
“He walked in there with a Dr. Pepper and a gun,” said Crawford. “He didn’t think he’d be in there for days. He wasn’t prepared.”
Mosch twice fired distress gunshots in the air on Monday, and he appeared to be moving farther away from camp.
Searchers arrived Tuesday, establishing a perimeter that grew to roughly 1.3-miles-by-1.3-miles.
At the height of the search, between 40 and 60 deputies, paramedics, firefighters, other sworn officers and civilians combed the area. Each day brought clues — a discarded device, bootprints, a noise — that kept searchers returning each morning.
They carried rifles to fend off snakes or alligators, perils that Mosch, too, was forced to navigate, family members feared.
With time, focus shifted to the perimeter’s southern edge, as boot prints were discovered. Several times officers closed I-75 to aid in the search.
The eventual find was made by a 2-year-old bloodhound, Max, and five searchers, among them Max’s handlers, from DeSoto Correctional Institution, a Collier County Sheriff’s Office deputy and a paramedic.
“Once he picked up on the scent, we followed him about a mile and a half in, calling his name out,” said Eli Mares, one of the DeSoto officers. “And then we heard him call for help.”
Mosch was scratched, bug bitten and possibly injured in his right leg, said Pitts, who carried the hunter part of the way out.
Rescuers provided a few details of Mosch’s experience. They said the hunter recalled hearing traffic on I-75 but was unable to find his way to the road. He ate a catfish at one point and drank swamp water.
Mosch lost his shotgun while swimming a canal, Pitts said, and Mosch wasn’t sure how he lost his camouflage gear.
He was found wearing a black tanktop, long underwear and socks.
Mosch’s personal account is yet to come. After being airlifted to the Collier Boulevard branch of Physicians Regional Hospital, he was to be kept overnight for tests. Family members said he wasn’t ready to speak with reporters.
His older sister, Tonia Driscoll, 33, said it was “surreal” seeing her brother alive and well in a hospital bed. He was a little cold, a little hungry and thirsty for a Pepsi, she said, but he was happy to be around people again.
“We asked him if he wanted to sleep, get rid of us, and he said, ‘No, I’ve been alone for a few days,’” Driscoll said.
Asked if the family planned to allow Mosch to hunt in the Everglades again, she said no, adding, “We’re buying him a GPS tonight.”
Back at Big Cypress, searchers celebrated and Max received ample belly rubs. Their work done, the crews headed home, some traveling as close as Naples, others as far away as Palm Beach County.
Sgt. Bob Brown, a supervisor with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Response Team and a constant presence over the perimeter map, summed up the lesson from the search.
“Persistence pays off,” he said.
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Staff writer Ryan Mills contributed to this report.
MISSING HUNTER JAMEY MOSCH FOUND ALIVE
- Audio: 911 call for hunter missing in Everglades
- Video: Sister talks about reunion with Jamey
- Video: NBC-2 - Missing hunter found
- Video: Friend of missing hunter speaks
- Video: Search for missing man continues
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- Photos: Day 4: Missing hunter Jamey Mosch found alive in Everglades
- Photos: Day 3: Searching for Jamey Mosch
- Photos: Day 2: The search for Jamey Mosch continues
- Photos: Day 1: Search for the missing hunter
- Photos: Jamey Mosch
- Photo: Map of where officials are searching for Jamey Mosch
- Story: PHOTOS/VIDEO: Bloodhound, officers rescue hunter from Everglades
- Story: Hunter found alive; ate catfish, drank swamp water to survive
- Story: VIDEO/PHOTOS: Clues found among snakes, gators but hunter still missing in Everglades
- Story: After having 'bad feeling', family believes story of how Jamey Mosch went missing
- Story: 911 CALL/VIDEO/PHOTOS: Searchers hear moaning, yet still haven't found missing man in Everglades
- Story: VIDEO/911 CALL: Search suspended for 30-year-old man missing during Big Cypress hunting trip