After three days of searching for two boaters who disappeared on Lake Jesup, authorities have shifted the focus from a rescue to a recovery effort, officials said Monday night.
A volunteer armada of airboats and fishing boats fanned out on Lake Jesup all day Monday. Family, friends and strangers have helped Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials in looking for Charlie Jackson, 26, and Jason Cobb, 30, two boaters missing since early Saturday morning.
Ron Camillone, a captain with Black Hammock Adventures Airboat Rides, said a coworker found the men's empty Bass Tracker boat on the north side of the lake in some reeds, with the navigation lights still on Saturday afternoon. Life jackets, paddles and keys were still aboard. There was no apparent damage to the boat.
"The boat was found in this general area -- it was just empty," Camillone said.
Camillone said the lake is 6-feet deep in some areas and very shallow in others, a real hazard for nighttime boating.
"You'd be going from 6 feet of water to 6 inches of water, and that would stop your boat in a heartbeat if you don't know where you are going," Camillone said.
Cobb's sister, Amanda Goodwin, said there has been confusion over what Cobb and Jackson were doing before taking out a 15-foot fishing boat from Black Hammock Fish Camp about 1 a.m. Saturday.
"They were up here eating dinner. They were not part of any bachelor party or whatever," Goodwin said. "Apparently, there was a party going on here, but they were not part of it."
The Seminole County Sheriff's Office has used boats, ground teams, a helicopter and side-scan sonar on the north side of the lake to search for clues. Despite Lake Jesup's reputation as alligator-infested, FWC officials said likely it's too cold for the reptiles to be active.
FWC officials are asking volunteers in boats to stay clear of the north side for now. The family is asking boaters to help with the search in other areas.
The family and FWC officials will resume the search effort Tuesday morning.
"Come out if you have boats, four wheelers, rhinos, anything. If you want to walk by foot, we have people set up. Please come," Goodwin said.