Search for missing boater continues into the night
A recovery operation to find a boater missing off Fort Myers Beach Thursday evening continued into the evening hours Friday.
The missing person, identified as Paul Taefi, 31, of 27200 Lavinka Street in Bonita Springs, was operating a 20-foot watercraft when his companion and fellow Bonita Springs resident Carl Michael Wlodyka, 28, of 27400 Matheson Avenue, fell into the water. Taefi then stopped the vessel and jumped in to assist Wlodyka, officials said.
Preliminary reports stated the watercraft hit a sandbar about a half mile from the shoreline near 6200 Estero Blvd. but, upon further investigation, alcohol was believed to be the primary factor, officials said.
A search-and-rescue mission was conducted for hours Thursday night and into Friday morning. Shortly after sunrise, emergency personnel from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Coast Guard and Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, the lead agency on the mission, continued the search which eventually turned into a recovery operation. The operation, which included rescue personnel combing the area by water, land and air, covered the area north of 6200 Estero Blvd. to Big Carlos Pass.
Sue Pelletier of Eden Prairie, Minn. was attending an outdoor wedding on the Beach near the 5000 Estero Blvd. block when she noticed spotlights and a crowd of people on the beach front south of her. A helicopter soon flew overhead towards the scene.
“There were boats in the water, but it was dark when we saw the spotlights shining south of us,” she said. “We figured they were probably looking for somebody.”
Pelletier said she heard the helicopter circling until at least 2 a.m. Friday. When she awoke, she knew there was still some form of search still going on.
“This morning we saw a red helicopter flying by,” said Pelletier. “It was pretty obvious they were looking for a person.”
An official at the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Station said the recovery operation was still on and was unsure how long it would continue.