Coast Guard officials found a missing 3-year-old Florida boy safe aboard a sailboat early Tuesday, ending a frantic three-day search for the toddler who disappeared after a court-appointed visit with his father.
Witnesses reported last seeing Luke Finch with his father, Paul Martikainen, 35, at a St. Petersburg marina on Saturday, Coast Guard officials told NBC affiliate WESH.com in Orlando.
The witnesses said the father and son were boarding a friend's 32-foot Bristol sailboat and sailed away. Martikainen's green Ford Explorer was found at the marina, WESH reported.
Coast Guard officials spotted the sailboat late Monday evening in the Gulf of Mexico and kept the craft under surveillance. By sunrise Tuesday, two Coast Guard Cutters and a helicopter converged on the sailboat and safely recovered Luke, Coast Guard officials said.
The boy, who was taken aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Crocodile, was expected to arrive in Fort Myers Beach Tuesday evening.
The toddler was reported in good health and was accompanied by Detective Nellie Woodruff, Coast Guard officials said. Investigators were also transporting Luke's mother to Fort Myers for the reunion.
Luke's father remained aboard the sailboat, which was being towed to shore by the Coast Guard. Once Martikainen makes landfall, he will be taken in custody by FBI officials on a federal arrest warrant, Coast Guard officials said.
"This is absolutely the best day of my life," Luke's mother, Christa Finch, said after emerging from the Cocoa Police Station.
Finch said the Coast Guard called her Monday night to say they thought they had located the boat, and she tossed and turned all night long.
She said she spoke with her son briefly on the phone this morning, and he said, "I love you, mommy," the Fort Myers News-Press reported.
"We are extremely happy about the outcome of this. It could have gone so much worse and we are so thankful that Luke is safe. This was a group effort and would not have been possible without the help of many, many law enforcement agencies" said Cocoa Police Chief Mark Klayman.