LAKELAND, Fla. - Three girls are recovering from a long, cold night after getting lost deep into some woods in north Lakeland.
A Polk County Sheriff's Office helicopter found the kids around 10:30 Monday night, roughly three miles behind their home.
"I was panicking. My chest hurt so bad," said Missi Shaffer, mother of two of the girls. "I had a lot going through my mind."
It was supposed to be a short hike to find some horses, but it turned into a nightmare for nine-year-old Aubrey Shaffer, six-year-old Grace Shaffer, and their 13-year-old neighbor.
Missi called for help around 7:30pm when she couldn't find the kids anywhere.
"I can't explain it," she said. "Knowing they're out there, and you can't do anything for them."
They girls wondered so far into the woods, they were lost. As search and rescue crews arrived, daylight started to fade.
"I also heard this sound that was pretty scary," Grace said. "I thought it was a hog. I told them we should maybe turn around and find our way back."
By then it was too late, and too dark.
Their friend used her cell phone to call her mother and explain they were lost in the woods, right before that phone died.
Luckily, Aubrey always carries around a cell phone that she never uses because it only calls 9-1-1.
The girls talked with a 9-1-1 dispatcher, who directed search teams on the ground and in the air.
It took some time and patience, but eventually the sheriff's office helicopter pilot spotted the girls using the light from Aubrey's phone and the flashes from Grace's fancy, light-up shoes.
"I was clapping them together," Grace said.
The sheriff's office says the emergency cell phone may have saved their lives.
"It was almost like their own little personal beacon for us to be able to find them," said Donna Wood, spokeswoman for the sheriff's office.
After spending roughly four cold hours lost in the woods, the girls ended their adventure with a brief helicopter ride back home.
The arrived to a family reunion a few hours overdue.
"I was relieved," Missi said. "I could feel my heart beating again. It was beating so fast, I couldn't feel it anymore."
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