Coast Guard suspends search for distressed boater

FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. – The Coast Guard has suspended the search for a boater off Gasparilla Island, Wednesday.

Coast Guard watchstanders at Sector St. Petersburg received a report from a good Samaritan at 3:45 a.m., Wednesday, saying he had witnessed a man sitting atop a capsized vessel, flashing a light in what may have been an S.O.S. signal.

John Neely, of Port Charlotte, Fla., reported he was fishing from the beach on the southern tip of Gasparilla Island, near Boca Grande Pass, when he saw a person sitting atop a small, capsized, white boat, approximately 300 yards from shore. Neely said he signaled the capsized boater with a flashlight, and eight to 10 minutes later saw a small flashing light that may have been signaling back.

Coast Guard search crews, including two 33-foot Special Purpose Craft-Law Enforcement boat crews from Coast Guard Station Fort Myers Beach, an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Clearwater, and a Coast Guard Auxiliary fixed-wing aircraft searched the area beginning at 4:30 a.m., Wednesday. For over 13 hours marine emergency response crews from multiple law enforcement agencies, including Charlotte County Sheriff’s Department, Lee County Sheriff, Pine Island Fire Rescue, Cape Coral Police Department, and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission canvassed a large area off Boca Grande Pass.

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