Sebring man lost on nature trail is found dead

A 61-year-old Sebring man who called for help Sunday to say he was lost, was found dead hours later.

The Highland County Sheriff’s Office said that Ronald Bernard Fernandez called 911 at 3:46 p.m. saying he got lost after leaving for a walk at 1 p.m. on the nature trail on the west end of Sun ‘n Lake in Sebring.

More than a dozen deputies along with K-9 units, air units from Highlands and Polk counties, four-wheelers from HCSO and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission searched for Fernandez. “The terrain was very difficult, and searchers were at times in waist deep water as they tried to zero in on Fernandez’s location,” the sheriff’s office said.

Deputies pinged his cell phone but it kept showing different locations and Fernandez called back several times — he said he wanted to conserve batteries on his phone and kept disconnecting — but he kept moving despite being told to stay put, deputies said. The last contact dispatchers had with Fernandez was at 6:13 p.m.

At 8:24 p.m., the Polk County helicopter spotted Fernandez, who was face down in shallow water about 300 yards away from the last known location of his cell phone and 1.8 miles from the entrance to the trail at Sun ‘n Lake Boulevard and Balboa Boulevard.

The cause of death will be determined by the medical examiner.

“Our hearts go out to Mr. Fernandez’s family,” Sheriff Paul Blackman said. “I know everyone involved in the search did their best trying to make this situation have a happy ending.

“It is important to remember that if you become lost, the best way to help us find you is to simply stay in one spot. It is much easier for us to find a stationary person that to try to track a moving target. Call 911 if you can, give them as much detail about where you are as possible and then just sit and wait. Even if you can’t call 911, it is a good idea to find a safe place and just wait.

“It was 90 degrees and very humid yesterday. It doesn’t take a long time out in that heat to get dehydrated and disoriented, so the best idea is to conserve energy. We have all kind of ways of finding you, but it will be a much quicker process if you are in one spot instead of moving around.”

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