CLEARWATER - A local Coast Guard C-130 Hercules aircrew from Clearwater returned to the area Wednesday evening after saving the lives of eight boaters stranded off the coast of Honduras.
The boaters were missing since Saturday. Video from the rescue mission shows the boaters jumping up and down and waving their hands with all their might after they were spotted by the Coast Guard crew Wednesday morning.
"It's a very exciting thing. This is why we do this," said Kenneth Harris, AMT2 (E-5).
ABC Action News caught up with Harris and the six other members of the Clearwater crew just as they returned from the mission. The crew left early Tuesday morning after receiving a report of a missing boat carrying a couple of American citizens.
Rescue crews searched more than 4,502 square miles. They found the boat on the third leg of their search using their radar and infrared camera.
"We spotted them and were able to divert straight to them within less than half an hour of being on scene for this morning's search," said Lt. Commander Joe Boyes. "They got really excited when they saw the flare go in the water."
An Army UH-60 helicopter helped hoist the eight boaters to safety. Those on board included five Hondurans, one Canadian citizen, and two American teenagers - one male and one female.
According to the Coast Guard, the group had traveled on Saturday from Utila Island, Honduras to Roatan, which is about 18 miles away. They were reportedly on their return trip back to Utila, but they never made it. It's still unclear what happened.
"They were dehydrated and very hungry, but otherwise in good health," Boyes said of the boaters upon rescue.
The boaters are now back on dry land in "relatively good condition" according to the crew.