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Body camera footage shows young girl with autism rescued from Florida wetlands

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Posted at 10:19 PM, Feb 28, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-28 22:19:02-05

What started as a terrifying moment for a parent -- suddenly missing their child who wandered off -- had a happy ending for one Florida family thanks to a quick thinking local sheriff's department.

Officials conducted a desperate search in the air and on the ground to rescue a 5-year-old girl with autism who wandered away from her Tampa home into a wooded, swampy area on Monday.

"They went to the neighbors house, realized 'no we haven't seen her,' now the panic starts to kick in," Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister recalled to ABC News about what prompted the panic and search efforts.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department aviation unit used a thermal imaging camera to scour thousands of miles of swamps and forest before they spotted something on their radar.

Body-worn camera footage showed the heroic moments when deputies rescued the young girl.

"Hey I think I got her in the woods, she might be able to hear your name if you call her now," one deputy was heard saying from the aerial search. "She's about 80 feet running. I got two deputies moving in that direction."

Deputies on the ground raced to the child's location and spotted her knee deep in a swamp before they lifted her to safety without injury.

"In situations like this, every second counts and its always rewarding to see this quick response for our deputies and to see such a positive outcome," Chronister said.

Officials also told ABC News that the "safety net" program can help families with children who have autism or elderly family members who might wander away.

Chronister hailed his team for the quick action that turned "a potential tragedy into a hopeful reunion."