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Friends Barely Survive Swamp Ordeal

July 21, 1987

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) _ A shark-fishing trip turned into a miserable misadventure for two men who abandoned their boat after its engine failed, got lost in a mangrove swamp and burned their clothes trying to attract help.

″We did a lot of talking to the Lord,″ a mosquito-bitten Gary Foster said Monday of his ordeal in the mangroves near the Myakka River in southwestern Florida’s Charlotte County.

A deputy spotted the two men Monday and Foster and his nephew, Anthony Wade Foster, were plucked from a small lagoon - barefoot and wearing nothing but their underwear.

Anthony Foster, a 21-year-old bank teller, and Gary Foster, a 36-year-old truck driver, had set out on their expedition about 1 p.m. Sunday. Three hours later the engine on their 15-foot outboard failed.

The men fired off flares and waved at passing boats, but nobody paid attention. So they paddled their boat to what they thought was land.

Instead, they had ended up in a mangrove swamp off Cattle Dock Point, walked away from their boat and became lost.

Frantic, they burning their clothing in hopes of attracting rescuers.

No one came. In the darkness, they heard sounds they thought might be alligators.

″The alligators kept us on our toes. It was awesome,″ said Anthony Foster.

″We slept in a tree because there was about six inches of water and no land,″ he explained.

By morning, ″we had to pry our hands off the tree,″ said Anthony Foster.

On Sunday night, the men were reported missing by Frances Foster, Gary Foster’s mother. But rain prevented an air search until Monday morning.

Then, a helicopter doing a ″Figure Eight″ search of the area flew over the men.

The helicopter hovered just a foot over the lake, while Anthony Foster climbed aboard with help from a deputy. Rescuing Gary Foster, who weighs 295 pounds, was a little harder.

A net was lowered into the water, and after settling himself into it, Gary Foster was flown swinging high above the ground to dry land about a mile away.

″I kept my eyes closed all the way,″ he said.