ST. PETERSBURG — Authorities are looking for a missing boater after he was separated from three other men when their boat capsized several miles off Egmont Key early Sunday morning.
The search for Enrique Rodriguez, 63, of Avon Park was called off around 5 p.m. Sunday due to bad weather and will resume at first light today.
Rodriguez left Fort De Soto around 5 p.m. Saturday on a fishing trip with 25-year-old Joaquin Machado, of Greeley, Colo., and Avon Park residents Andrew Hernandez, 26, and Manuel Perez, 41. His three companions were recovered with no injuries after choppy seas caused their 21-foot pleasure boat to take on water, according to the Coast Guard. The flooding upset the stability of the boat and it capsized around 2 a.m., the fishermen told authorities.
The three men clung to a life jacket and a cooler to stay afloat but were separated from Rodriguez.
“As quick as the boat sank, they only had time to grab one life jacket,” said Lt. Grant Burton, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Eventually, the men made it to a navigational buoy in the shipping channel about 8 miles west of Egmont Key. Skyway Buoy number 5 was large enough for the three men to climb on top of, and that's where they were found by a passing boater about 6 a.m. Sunday. The rescuer immediately called the Coast Guard.
Crews from the FWC, U.S. Coast Guard and Eckerd College's search and rescue program combed the waters in the area looking for Rodriguez.
The 80-degree water is about 50 feet deep, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
“It's incredibly important to make sure you have safety equipment like life jackets or devices that alert others to your location readily accessible whenever you're boating,” Burton said. “Even calling your family or friends every couple hours to let them know where you're at could be the difference between life and death.”