Father & Son Miraculously Saved at Sea

09/10/2008 AT 12:10 PM EDT


In what's being called a miracle, a father and his 12-year-old son were rescued at sea after surviving 12 hours – many of them apart from one another – in the riptide- and jellyfish-infested waters off Florida.

Walter Marino – who movingly spoke on the Today show Wednesday with his entire family at his side – and his son Chris went missing Saturday, prompting an extensive Coast Guard search that involved a 47-foot rescue boat, water scooters and helicopters

Chris, who is autistic, was cheered for part of the ordeal by his father's shouting dialogue from the boy's favorite movie, Toy Story, said Walter Marino, 46, of Orlando. But then Chris disappeared, and his father could not help but believe his son was permanently lost.

When finally rescued by the Coast Guard, with his son still missing, Walter said he went below deck, wanting to prevent from seeing what he thought would eventually be the sight of his dead son floating in the water.

Instead, after some time, the father was informed his son had been found – alive.

"I'd have to say it's the most incredible thing I've ever heard or seen on our beach," Scott Petersohn, a spokesman for Florida's Volusia County Beach Patrol, told the Orlando Sentinel. "When they're gone for more than 20 minutes, it's usually a body recovery."

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Jenny McCarthy combats her son's autism on the cover of PEOPLE
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