David Hramika headed downstream on the personal watercraft, hoping to refuel and then quickly rejoin the search for a missing 28-year-old man.
But on his way back to the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Hramika saw a man sitting in the brush along the river. The man was wearing black clothes and looking a little distressed. And he looked an awful lot like the man everyone was looking for.
"I yelled out, 'Hey, are you Anthony?,'" Hramika said. "And he said yes. I told him everyone was looking for him."
Indeed. Hramika's fortuitous trip down the river Tuesday ended a search for Anthony Sureda that had been going on nearly 20 hours.
A day after Sureda was safely recovered, more details emerged about the heroic circumstances surrounding his rescue.
Sureda was reported missing Monday evening after going wading in the Weeki Wachee River - just east of the Weeki Wachee Christian Camp - with a group of friends earlier that afternoon. After falling asleep while floating down the river on a flotation device, Sureda awoke to discover that his friends had left him behind.
Sureda's mother said it's not clear why the friends took off without her son, who hascerebral palsy and speech difficulties.
"Kids will be kids," Susan Sureda said. Anthony Sureda "is coping with it. We all learned a lesson from it."
Left alone in the wilderness, Anthony Sureda got disoriented and decided to stay close to the river as a thunderstorm rolled through the area later that night.
Authorities with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission combed the woods and searched along the river for Sureda on Monday night and Tuesday morning.
Hramika, a captain with Hernando County Fire Rescue and water park manager at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, asked to join the search when he reported for work at the park that morning. After his boss gave him the okay, Hramika took off on a personal watercraft on the river.
Soon after, he found Sureda.
When Sureda told him he couldn't swim through the strong current, Hramika parked on the other side of the river, swam across, told Sureda to get on his back and swam back across the river.
Sureda had a few scratches and cuts on his feet and legs. But he was focused on other concerns. "I'm hungry," Sureda told Hramika.
Someone passing by on a boat gave Sureda some crackers and a drink, and Hramika then took him back to the park.
"If you get lost in those woods, it can be a troublesome time out there," Hramika said. "I was just happy to help out."
Sureda's mother was just relieved to have him back home, safely.
"You can imagine the things that were running through my mind," she said. "We're just thankful that he was found alive."
Joel Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6120.