Search called off after man fell off a dinner-cruise into Caloosahatchee

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man overboard
The body of Joel Henderson, 37, was recovered in the Caloosahatchee River on Dec. 11, a week after he went overboard from the Capt. JP riverboat. (Credit: WINK News)

A man remains missing Saturday afternoon after falling overboard in the Caloosahatchee River Friday night.

U.S. Coast Guard crews suspended their search Saturday evening. The Coast Guard says they spent a total of 11 and a half hours searching for 37-year-old Joel Henderson of Naples.

Around 8 p.m., Friday the operator of the dinner-cruise vessel CAPT. JP, said a male passenger fell into the water not wearing a lifejacket.

What was supposed to be a fun night out on the Caloosahatchee quickly turned tragic.  Vanessa S. was one of the passengers on the Captain JP last night. “He was basically dying in front of us,” she said.

The Coast Guard says the first call came in around 8 p.m. Friday night that a man, who was not wearing a life jacket, fell overboard.

Those on board at the time say this was the Dark Christmas Brews Cruise by JC Cruises. Vanessa says she could hear someone shout ” man overboard.” “People were seeing he was struggling and wanted to help,” she said. “So many people were trying to get in the water but the staff would not allow anyone to get in the water.”

Searches have been conducted between east of Cape Coral Bridge and west of Highway 41 for Henderson. Vanessa says she watched him disappear. “He was bobbing barely keeping his head above water,” said Vanessa. “At that point, he was under the water maybe a minute and we were yelling.”

Then, he was gone. “He was gone. we never saw him come back up after that,” Vanessa said.

Firefighters, deputies, and police were all searching with Coast Guard, and an aviation unit was in the sky as part of the search for the man.

Florida Fish and Wildlife, the Fort Myers Police Department, and Lee County Sheriff’s officers with underwater side-scan sonar technology also assisted in the search.

The Coast Guard had seven boats in the water at the scene and continued the search Saturday afternoon.

Unfortunately, authorities never found Joel Henderson. “It was just it was sad. It was really hard to see,” said Vanessa.

Commander Shawn Lansing is the deputy commanding officer of the Coast Guard in St. Petersburg. “Our sincerest condolences go out to the family and friends,” he said. “We ask that all mariners keep a sharp lookout while transiting the waterways in the Caloosahatchee River  and to call our comment center at 727-824-7534 with any new information.”

Commander Lansing goes on to thank assisting agencies. “Thank you to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Fort Myers Beach Police and Florida Fish and Wildlife for their response and partnership throughout this challenging search.”

WINK News reached out to JC cruises but they are closed on Saturdays.

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