FELLSMERE, Fla. - Investigators with Florida Fish and Wildlife have identified the boater who died after his boat nearly capsized in Stick Marsh in Fellsmere Thursday morning as 64-year-old Francis Whitehead.
Friends call him Will, and say he was on the boat Thursday morning with a good friend and his friend’s son.
One friend, Larry Maschhoff says he was on his way to go fishing with Whitehead after he was done with his two friends when he got an unexpected phone call.
“We were just a short distance from here when his wife called us and said, she was barely able to tell us, but told us, so we just turned right around and went to her house,” Maschhoff said.
Investigators say the three men went out into Stick Marsh around 7 a.m. Conditions were windy and the water was choppy. Some waves may have been two to three feet high. Officials say Whitehead was driving his Bass tracker boat, which sits low to the water.
Investigators say the three men tried turning back when the water got too rough, and waves started filling the boat with water. They say Whitehead ultimately aborted the boat, while the two others stayed on long enough to make it to the shore safely.
Officials say the two men waited for Whitehead’s body to drift close to the shore so they could reach him and begin CPR.
"They couldn't get back out to him because of the wind and wave conditions out there," said FWC Investigator, Justin Morgan.
Officials say they also had trouble calling 911 because of poor cell service.
Fire Rescue says Whitehead was pronounced dead at the hospital. The two other men were hypothermic but refused treatment at the scene.
Maschhoff find some comfort in knowing Whitehead was doing what he loved.
“He just loved to fish. At least once a week he had to be on the water or else he wouldn’t be satisfied,” Maschhoff said.
Maschhoff says Whitehead also holds fishing records in the Northeast.
Fishermen like James Berry say this serves as a reminder to be cautious on windy days.
“You’re better safe than sorry on a day like today… This time of year, this is kind of a heavier wind than I’ve ever run into,” Berry said.
FWC will be looking into why Whitehead abandoned the boat.
They say they will also be looking into whether he may have suffered from a medical condition, and if the boat had any other mechanical issues that would have made it harder for it to return to the shore.