Guma Aguiar: Day 2 since the millionaire's disappearance began with a sunrise search

U.S. Coast Guard HC-144 plane used in search

Day two since the disappearance of Fort Lauderdale businessman Guma Aguiar began with a sunrise search over ocean waters by a U.S. Coast Guard HC-144 plane.

Authorities began looking for the wealthy 35-year-old father of four early Wednesday after his fishing boat, the T.T. Zion, was discovered unmanned around 1:15 a.m. on Fort Lauderdale Beach, its twin engines running and lights still on.

The 31-foot yacht tender appeared intact and seaworthy to a Sea Tow captain who motored through four-foot waves toward it in the predawn darkness on Wednesday near East Las Olas Boulevard.

Aguiar made his fortune in the oil and gas business and is known for his charitable gifts. The family of the missing Brazilian-born businessman is "completely devastated," Rabbi Moshe Meir Lipszyc of Chabad Lubavitch of Fort Lauderdale said Wednesday.

"They are all very, very worried about him," Lipszyc said. "We are hoping and praying for a miracle. We are hoping if he fell off the boat, that he was able to swim to shore. He is massively special and with God's help and all our prayers, we hope he will be OK."

U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Ryan Doss said the agency's search Thursday also included U.S.C.G. Cutter Dolphin at sea; a rescue helicopter that flew from Air Station Miami and the sentry plane.

Fort Lauderdale Police Detective Travis Mandell said Thursday his agency was working the land portion of the search and investigation.

"Everyone is trying to figure out why he got in that boat," Mandell said. "Hopefully he'll turn up safe and sound."

Mandell said the preliminary investigation showed that Aguiar got in the boat alone, "but that's not to say he didn't meet up with anyone."

Aguiar was last seen around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday getting into the Jupiter center console fishing boat that — along with his 5-year-old, 77-foot motor vessel Zion — is normally docked at his home in the 1500 block of Southeast 10th Street, Fort Lauderdale Police said.

What puzzles investigators is why Aguiar would venture out to sea. There was a small craft advisory in effect Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday that was issued by the National Weather Service that predicted conditions would deteriorate through the week.

For the area's coastal waters it warned at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday of east/southeast winds of 15 to 20 knots, seas 3 to 5 feet, with occasional seas of up to 6 feet and widespread showers and isolated thunderstorms.

Gulf Stream seas of 6 to 8 feet were possible through Wednesday if Aguiar cruised 23 nautical miles east of Port Everglades where the Weather Service said the current's west wall began.

At 8:50 p.m. Tuesday night, the Weather Service's warning was still in effect, until 4 a.m. Wednesday.

"Basically conditions are unfavorable for small, personal watercraft, and a 31-foot boat falls under that advisory," the Coast Guard's Doss said.

Near dawn Wednesday, a salvage worker inspected the white hull, raised its twin outboards out of the sand and swam with tow lines to connect it to Sea Tow Captain John See's high-powered inflatable vessel that was idling just offshore.

See didn't observe any blood, bait or fishing gear aboard the T.T. Zion, but noticed the tie bar connecting its outboard engines had been broken.

If the tie bar broke and the engines became unattached, See said, "The second engine could turn sharply and pitch a boater overboard, or it could be difficult for its captain to steer."

The T.T. Zion was towed Wednesday morning to the 15th Street boat ramp and driven to a Fort Lauderdale warehouse for police inspection, See said.

Aguiar's wife, Jaime Aguiar, told Fort Lauderdale Police that she is concerned for her husband's safety,  Mandell said Wednesday.

She arrived home Tuesday and believed her husband was in his home office, Mandell said. She told investigators an employee of the couple told her that her husband went out on his boat around 7:30 that night.

The Coast Guard and marine units from the Broward Sheriff's Office and Fort Lauderdale Police are searching area waterways and three miles offshore, between Lauderdale-by-the-Sea and Port Everglades, officials said.

Fort Lauderdale Police also searched the beach aboard ATVs, and were puzzled about why Aguiar would go boating at night.

"It's extremely odd that Mr. Aguiar would venture out in such tumultous seas and rip currents and impending bad weather conditions that were unfavorable for boating, even for the most seasoned captain," Mandell said.

One of Aguiar's attorneys, Fred Haddad, said his client is knowledgeable about boats.

"I'm just kind of dumbfounded," said Haddad. "I really like the guy. He's as nice as they come."

Aguiar's disappearance has drawn the attention of Israeli news and sports media.

In 2009, Aguiar became a fixture of Israeli sports pages after he briefly became the main sponsor of an Israeli Premier League soccer team, Beitar Jerusalem.

Last summer, he reportedly purchased a share of the Hapoel Jerusalem professional basketball

team.

"He gave the management the power to do what they liked with the team, and when he was in Israel, he was courtside," Sports 5 reporter Roey Gladstone said by phone from that country.

Aguiar is a charitable benefactor who made an $8 million gift to Nefesh b'Nefesh, an organization that helps Jews move to Israel.

Despite his success, in January 2010, Aguiar was forcibly admitted to an Israeli psychiatric hospital after claiming he had visited a soldier who had been abducted by Hamas fighters, according to Israeli media reports.

Court documents also indicate that in 2011, Aguiar's wife and mother successfully petitioned a Miami-Dade judge to appoint an emergency guardian for him.

Since 2009, Aguiar and his uncle, Thomas Kaplan, have been locked in contentious litigation resulting from the $2.55 billion sale of an energy company they co-founded, Leor Exploration & Production LLC, which tapped a massive natural gas field in Texas.

Kaplan accused his nephew in a January 2009 lawsuit of believing he was the Messiah. Aguiar said he never made such claims, but felt remarkably blessed for his good fortune.

"People have said what an amazing accomplishment it was that I started a company at 26 from nothing, and built it up to be so successful," Aguiar told the Sun Sentinel in 2009. "When I sold the company, I gave credit to God."

Also that year, Aguiar claimed Broward sheriff's deputies beat him after a traffic stop and made anti-Semitic remarks, comments an agency spokesman called "ludicrous."

Aguiar pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor drug charges arising from the traffic stop and avoided serving time on probation or in jail.

Broward County clerk of courts dockets indicate Aguiar is currrently on probation after pleading no contest in February to charges related to a domestic violence case.
 
Copyright © 2012, South Florida Sun-Sentinel


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