LEE COUNTY, Fla.- The mystery of the missing Hickory Pass boater was solved early Friday evening.
Local and state law enforcement officials scoured the small area of the Gulf of Mexico throughout the afternoon when an unmanned boat was reported adrift at sea without a captain.
WINK News followed Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission search crews throughout the day broadcasting live from the search in Hickory Pass.
Much to his surprise, the boat’s owner, 20-year-old college student Cody Prevatt was watching the search from home on television.
“It was a big misunderstanding, I didn’t want to call and report the boat stolen if we were going to go out and find it. My whole goal was to not cause a fuss.”
Prevatt says he and his fishing buddies set out to catch bait at about 1 a.m. Friday morning on a nearby sandbar. Prevatt did not anchor the boat and it was gone when he returned.
“We came back to the boat, and the boat was drifting down the thing I guess, but we didn’t know,” Prevatt said. “We hadn’t seen the boat, so we didn’t know if it was stolen or whatever, so we came back to the boat ramp and we were going to search for it the next day.”
Prevatt’s plan to locate the boat Friday morning at first light fell through. The boat was eventually spotted adrift by an alarmed passerby and eventually reported to FWC.
Search crews with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Coast Guard and FWC spent hours by air, land and sea looking for the suspected missing boater. They did not have a name because the registration number was linked to a previous owner of the boat.
As luck would have it, Prevatt found his boat on the news and immediately called authorities.
“Whenever I saw all the helicopters and everything else, it was kind of nerve wracking,” Prevatt said. “I was trying to get a hold of authorities right away just to let them know that everybody was ‘okay.'”
Prevatt will need to retrieve his boat from an impound lot after the Memorial Day weekend, learning an important lesson along the way.
“Next time I’ll definitely hook an anchor up to the front of the boat.”