18-year-old swept away during family fishing trip

- A family’s fishing trip on the Peace River turned tragic Sunday morning when a family member was swept away by rushing waters.

 According to the Polk County Sheriff's Office, Barbara Engles and her two children, 11-year old Crystal Droze and 18-year-old Austin Welch were fishing at the Peace River canoe launch off SR 60. At some point, Droze lost her footing on the dock after casting her line and fell into the water.

Welch and Engles jumped in after her, but officials say the water was deep and the current was too fast. Engles and her daughter were able to grab onto each other, and then grabbed Welch’s shirt, but he was swept away. 

Mother and daughter were able to grab onto some grass and pulled themselves to shore and that’s when Engles made it out to SR 60 to flag down help for her son.  Due to weather, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office helicopter was only able to fly for a short amount of time during the early part of their search.

However, Fish and Wild Life Conservation Commission’s plane and Polk Fire EMS have been combining their efforts to aid PCSO in locating Austin Welch. Officials say several rescue boats and a side-scan sonar are all being used to try to find Welch. “We are hoping he was able to make it out of the water and might be walking in the area,” PCSO said in a news release.

Sheriffs say Austin is described as a white male, 6' tall, 175 lbs., with shoulder-length black hair dyed red in some places. He was last seen wearing a Batman tank top, blue jeans, and brown boat shoes.He has a tattoo on his right shoulder, of a broken heart.

PCSO say they will continue looking for Welch until he is found. Anyone who sees Austin is urged to contact PCSO immediately at 863-298-6200.

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