Fossil Hunting Turns into Airboat Rescue

A Gulfport resident along with her visiting sister and nephew were safely rescued from the Peace River when a tandem kayak they were using began to take on water. Pictured from left are, Dawn Lussier, DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Joey Santos, Erik Pearce, Christine Lussier of Gulfport, and DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Tim Hilgamen. “We don’t get these calls for help often,” said Santos in a text message to Lussier.

It started with a Gulfport resident’s recent Facebook post seeking used golf clubs to use as ground poking tools for prehistoric Ice Age fossil hunting.

It ended with a safe rescue from Florida’s Peace River after her tandem kayak began taking on water.

Christine Lussier researched and organized the paddling adventure for herself, her visiting sister and nephew, and a local friend. She read on the internet about the river’s paddling trail, which is 67 miles long and runs from Fort Meade to State Road 70 just west of Arcadia.

“I never considered it was possible to find something from a mastodon,” said Lussier.

According to the Canoe Outpost’s website, boaters can typically find teeth from mastodons and mammoths along with camels, dolphins and sharks. Fossil hunters need to walk through the shallow water using hand tools like shovels, trowels, screen sifters and poking sticks like old golf club shafts with the heads removed.

“Finding the fossils was super easy because I had my snorkel and goggles,” said Erik Pearce, Lussier’s nephew. “I could just see a bunch of shark teeth in the gravel. I hardly had to touch the sand to find them.”

Visitors can keep any teeth they find but to take vertebrate fossils found on land owned or leased by the state of Florida, a $5 annual permit is needed from the Program of Vertebrate Paleontology at the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. For more information about Peace River fossil hunting and obtaining a permit in advance, visit and choose the “Fossil Hunting” link.

The party of four used two kayaks – one single and one tandem – to navigate the river. Leslie Hollweg of Gulfport was in her single kayak while the three others were in Lussier’s tandem.

During the afternoon, it wasn’t long before it was discovered the tandem was taking on water.

“I was thinking we could just drag the kayak back,” said Dawn Lussier, Christine’s younger sister. The take-out point “was a lot farther than we thought it was. Christine was the one that said, ‘The alligators are going to start coming out.’”

Hollweg had left earlier to get help but since it was getting late, Christine decided to call 911.

Two deputies from the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office arrived after dark in a rescue airboat. When they tried to tow the waterlogged tandem kayak, it sank even more so it had to be left behind.

“The most exciting part was getting the ride on the airboat,” said Dawn. “It’s not what we had planned. The bugs were flying at us at light speed. That part wasn’t so fun. Whenever I’m with Christine, it’s always an adventure!”

Christine Lussier of Gulfport holds a large bone her nephew found in the Peace River during a recent fossil hunting trip that included her sister and a local friend. The bone is most likely from a modern cow, said Lussier. The river’s paddling trail is 67 miles long and runs from Fort Meade to State Road 70 just west of Arcadia.



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