A 64-year-old Hawthorne, Florida man was killed Tuesday morning when a fishing expedition turned deadly.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman, the operator of the boat was killed after the airboat capsized. His 50-year-old fishing buddy visiting from New York suffered minor injuries and was taken to Putnam Community Medical Center in Palatka.
The men apparently placed their airboat in the Rodman Reservoir from the Orange Springs boat ramp around 8:30 a.m. The boat rolled over about a half mile from the ramp sending both men into the water.
Both men apparently shared a life jacket and used a cooler to stay afloat.
A man in a canoe found the pair drifting and attempted to paddle them to shore. As they neared the shore, a pontoon boat arrived and the occupants put the men on their boat to take them back to safety.
The Hawthorne man was apparently unresponsive. A Marion County Fire Rescue paramedic pronounced the man dead at the scene.
FWC officials claim the men were in the water for a couple of hours.
An autopsy will be performed to determine the exact cause of death.
Investigators were still trying to uncover the sunken airboat late Tuesday.
Airboats are great for navigating Florida’s swampy marshes and generally used for tourism and fishing trips. While their flat bottoms and raised fans make them perfect for shallow waters, their speed and open nature put occupants at risk for safety hazards. Airboats can reach high speeds, making them difficult to control in the water. Even the most experienced airboat operator can find themselves in an accident, so certain safety precautions should be considered when making an outing:
• Examine the airboat and make sure everything is in working condition. A boat that is in poor condition is unreliable, making it a potentially hazardous vehicle.
• Make sure everyone on the airboat wears a life vest before getting out on the water. A life vest can sometimes be the difference between life and death, even if the water is shallow.
• Pay attention to what is going on in and around the boat.
• Check the Weather Forecast. Inclement weather can be disastrous to your boating excursion, so plan accordingly.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, nearly 5,000 boating accidents resulted in more than 70 deaths and 3,000 injuries in 2009. An astounding 485 people drowned in Florida in 2009 with 72 percent of victims aged 25 and older, according to the Florida Department of Health. Of these drowning deaths, 73 percent were classified as capable swimmers.
Florida waters are some of the busiest in the nation, so it is no surprise that it logs numerous boating accidents. Because of this, it is in everyone’s best interests to be familiar with boating rules and regulations before a boating trip of any kind.