Hinesville Teens Safe After Late Night Search

Hinesville Fire Chief Lamar Cook
Hinesville Fire Chief Lamar Cook
Family Thanks Fire Chief
Family Thanks Fire Chief

Tired, but happy to be back at home and out of the swamp.

That's the way Phillip Welsh, Sammy and Cody Waters felt Thursday morning.

Their families say the boys would still be there without a lot of help from Hinesville Fire and Police departments and the Georgia State Patrol.

"It was a big relief, believe me a big relief," sighs Shawn Starke, Phillip Welsh's father.

Shawn Starke can breathe a little easier today. That's because his son is back home.

Phillip Welsh was one of three boys who went into the woods looking for fun, and ended up the focus of a rescue operation.

"All they had on was t-shirts and jeans and swamp, you know they were getting wet," says Starke. "As it got colder we worried about that."

"We've been in there before," according to Hinesville Fire Chief Lamar Cook. "We've had people lost, we've bogged forestry tractors in there until the swamp dried up. So its pretty bad swamp."

Chief Cook was called in a few hours after the boys disappeared to lead the search.

"We waded water, through briars, vines, ti ti bay," explained Chief Cook. "It was really tough sometimes. We couldn't see five feet in front of us."

The Starkes say the boys knew where they were going but since the woods were so dense, they lost their way. Then it got dark and they got scared.

"All you can do is hope and pray," says Shawn Starke. "Because you feel helpless you feel like shouting into the woods, not getting any responses."

With the ground search getting tougher, The Georgia State Patrol came to the rescue with a helicopter, and heat sensitive search tools.

Cook and a Hinesville police officer found the boys almost a mile from where they started.

"We had to listen to sirens to find the closest way out and it still took us an hour to get out of the woods after we got them," says Cook.

"They don't get enough credit," explains Starke. "It means a lot to us to be able to know we have a department that cares so much."

And the tears in Shawn's eyes shows how much he cares about his son.

"Its just nice to know that the family is together again, everybody is safe," says an emotional Starke. "A little wiser and nobody got hurt for the lesson we learned."

That lesson, think twice before heading back into the swamp.

"Maybe next time we'll send a cell phone with him so he can call the police himself," joked Starke.

All the boys were cold and thirsty but otherwise unhurt.

They wouldn't talk on camera because they are embarrassed about the entire ordeal.

They do say they won't be back in those woods anytime soon.

Reported By: Andrew Davis adavis@wtoc.com