WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) — Authorities Sunday were searching for two boaters who were missing and believed drowned in an accident on a central Florida lake near the Legoland theme park.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told a press conference that the two men had jumped into Lake Eloise to save a third member of their group, a woman, who was struggling in the water. The men became separated from the boat and have not been seen since Saturday night.
The third person, Velcky Velazques, 38, was rescued by sheriff’s deputies who had been summoned when a 10-year-old girl on the boat dialed 911 with a cell phone. That boy and an 8-year-old girl remained on the boat as it drifted and were rescued safely by deputies, who had impounded a fishing vessel whose owner cooperated in the effort, Judd said.
The lake, adjacent to Legoland in Winter Haven, was choppy Saturday with 20 mph (32 km/h) winds and some white crests, Judd said. He added that the weather problems were compounded by the inexperience of the boaters, who had chartered the vessel for an excursion that day.
The trouble started when the Velazques jumped into the water with an anchor, the sheriff said.
“She’s just very inexperienced, so she thinks you should get in the water, set the anchor and then tie it to the boat,” Judd said.
The missing men were identified as Orlando Ortiz, 32, boyfriend of Velazques, and Jeffrey Marrero, 34, father of the two girls. Judd said the search will continue using sonar and underwater drones until they are found.
“We don’t allow anyone’s loved one to stay in the lake. We’ll find them,” Judd said.
Winter Haven is located approximately 80 kilometers east of Tampa.
Legoland released a statement on Saturday saying the incident was “not connected to us in any way.” He added that a walkway at his hotel was being used by officials as a command center.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time,” the statement said.