A woman and three children missing since Tuesday in the Ocala National Forest were located Wednesday morning with the help of the Alachua Sheriff’s Office and Gainesville Police Joint Aviation Unit.
At about 9 a.m., the Marion County Sheriff’s Office requested a helicopter from the unit to help with the search, wrote GPD spokesman Officer Ben Tobias in an email. After an unsuccessful search in the northern area of the forest, a Lake County Sheriff’s Office helicopter began to search the southern area and spotted the woman and the children in a wilderness area near U.S. 41. The woman went for a drive with the children, and her car got stuck in the mud.
When Marion County Sheriff’s Office deputies brainstormed how to get cars to the stranded woman and children, a joint aviation unit pilot suggested landing and evacuating the group by air, Tobias said.
A helicopter piloted by a Marion County officer picked up two boys, then another aircraft piloted by a GPD officer picked up the woman and a 2-month-old baby, Tobias said. Pilots flew the group to Salt Springs Sheriff’s station for medical attention and to treat for dehydration.
Ocala National Forest spreads over about 383,000 acres. Much of it is restricted to vehicle traffic, which is why Marion County Sheriff’s Office called for additional air service, Tobias said.