Two boaters, father and son, rescued on Lake Okeechobee after boat hit rocks and foundered

Robert and Michael Jones were pulled from wreckage

PORT MAYACA, Fla. - Wreckage is all that remains, after two boaters ran out of gas on Lake Okeechobee on Wednesday evening.

Michael Jones told authorities he was out boating with his 84-year-old father, Robert. When Michael called for help, he told dispatchers, "I'm standing in water, trying to keep the boat out of the rocks."

The boaters foundered on the shoreline during windy conditions, and their boat started taking on water. "The batteries are dead, and the motor is stuck in the rocks," Jones told dispatchers.

John Perez, a sergeant with the Martin County Sheriff's Office, was one of three units who came to search for the boaters.

"What if we don't get out there in time?" Perez said, of the thoughts that were going through his head. "All that anxiety goes through you, and we're starting to think the worst."

The boaters saw Perez's flashing blue lights, so deputies finally found the victims.

"The 84-year-old (father) was sitting in the front of the boat," recalled Perez. "He was getting hit pretty hard, because he was crouched down, and the boat was hitting the rocks."

Deputies assessed the damage to see if they could salvage the boat, but knew human life was more important.

"We made the quick decision to try to see if we could move the boat," said Perez. "Once we realized it's stuck, it's not going anywhere, we just looked at each other and it was simultaneous-- we gotta get them out."

Perez jumped in and pulled the boaters to safety. From there, Martin County Fire Rescue had an ambulance waiting, and both boaters were taken to St. Mary's Medical Center. Robert Jones was treated for broken ribs.

Michael and Robert Jones both were at St. Mary's on Thursday afternoon. A hospital spokesperson confirmed both boaters are in serious condition.

When Perez remembers how quickly he and the other rescuers had to act as soon as they saw the boaters, he knew time was of the essence. Jumping in to pull them to shore was a quick action, Perez said, that may have made all the difference.

"They had been out there for so long, it seemed forever," said Perez. "We just wanted to take them to safety."
 

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