Crews search for missing boater in Lake Thonotosassa

- The search continues for a possible missing boater at a Hillsborough County lake. Crews scoured Lake Thonotosassa since early in the afternoon. By sunset, they had yet to find any boater in the murky water.

Around 1:30 p.m., the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office got a 911 call. A witness reported seeing someone's head bobbing in the water, waving for help. There were also reports of an empty boat.

Florida Fish and Wildlife took over, calling for a search and rescue effort. Dive teams plunged below the surface while deputies and officers scanned from the shoreline.

"The witness did see someone in the boat at some point but got concerned when he saw the boat out there but did not see the person," said FWC Officer Brian Norris.

Investigators did locate a small, unmanned boat with its motor running, carrying an open soda, flip flops, and a GoPro camera. The registration number led them to a previous owner who'd recently sold the boat. That's why it was taking so long to identify the boater.

"We believe it is a male, maybe middle-aged, but beyond that, I don't have any other information," Norris said.

Lake Thonotosassa is the largest lake in Hillsborough County, measuring more than 900 acres. Those who know the lake well, say the wildlife, like water moccasins and alligators, are among the biggest threats in the water.

"I'd say the average depth is only about 6 feet," said boater Matthew Joiner. "You couldn't see your hand right in front of your face. It's just real murky it's kind of a green color. It's just tough to see anything underwater here."

It's not clear what may have happened on the water, or if that boater was wearing a life jacket.
At this point, all investigators have to go by is what they've heard from witnesses.

"The best scenario is, they find the person alive," Joiner said. "If this is, in fact, a person in the water and not something that just floated away from somebody's dock, I wish them the best."

FWC said it's been a tragic year from Tampa to Fort Myers in regards to accidents on the water. They can't stress enough, the importance of wearing life jackets any time you're on the water. When accidents happen, it gives them the best chance of rescuing people.

The dive teams are expected to continue their search Thursday morning at 9 a.m.

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