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Free spirit Andy Buth drowns in Micronesia, his paradise

Andy Buth found paradise. He had sought a place where he could live without money. Live off the land. Use his skills to hunt and fish. • He'd been a hunting guide in Montana and managed a chocolate factory in Alaska. In April, he landed in Micronesia. It was the happiest he'd ever been.

He died on Oct. 15, at age 25. The cause of death is uncertain, but his body was recovered in about 45 feet of water, where he had been fishing. Island chiefs proclaimed a month of mourning and named the place where he died Andy Buth's Cove.

His story, say those who loved him, was one of a youthful odyssey touched by troubles, but more often, brimming with adventure, fearlessness and caring.

His dad, St. Petersburg resident Joseph Buth, prefers to refer to his son — who wore nipple rings and often walked barefoot — by his formal name, Andrew.

"When he was 18, he decided not to go to college and that disappointed me a little bit and then I discovered that what he was following, that was much rougher and much more true to his soul,'' the elder Buth said by phone from Micronesia. "Andrew's kind of ideal was to find a place where there was no currency.''

"He had this skill set,'' his mother, Tina Ellet, said. "He was a hunter in the States where there are fast-food drive-throughs. It was not a very easy fit in the United States."

Andy was born in Daytona Beach and got his GED from Dixie Hollins High, where his father graduated. His parents divorced and he lived with his mother, sister, Lily, and brother, Chris, in Melbourne Village, and at times with his father and his wife, Karen Olson, in St. Petersburg.

"My nickname for him was Gentle Giant,'' his mother said. "He was just the big kid with the kind, soft touch. Many a time, he went to battle for other people that weren't as physically strong.''

Lily, 20, said she and her two brothers got tattoos with their three initials: ACE, for Andrew, Christian and Elizabeth. "That's just how close we were,'' she said.

To Olson, Andy's stepmother who now lives in Plant City, Andy was her "bonus son.''

"He would decide that something didn't make sense and he would live by it,'' she said. "He would walk everywhere barefoot and when we went to a restaurant, he would try to walk in barefoot. … Andy always had to do things his own way.''

Ten members of the family traveled to the Micronesian outer island of Fais after receiving news of his death. He had been in Micronesia for about six months when he died. With childhood friend Gita Drew serving there in the Peace Corps, it seemed an opportune time to visit. He settled in quickly.

"The culture is a very, very traditional Pacific culture. The women wear traditional handwoven skirts — lavalava — and no shirts. The men wear what we call loincloths. Their culture is all about respect and community and not a lot of outsiders come to these outer islands of Yap,'' said Drew, 25, who is at home in Melbourne Beach on leave.

Andy won the islanders' admiration. In Woleai, where he first lived, he impressed the men with his diving skills. He later ended up on Fais when Drew was transferred there.

"There is where he really excelled in fishing. He went out spear fishing with the men and he got to where he could dive 100 feet and just hold his breath. He was a fish,'' Drew said.

"He was always making something. He loved to work, fishing, gardening, repairing houses, repairing fishing nets, building, clearing land, collecting coconuts. It was the perfect place for him, for me, for the two of us. We would go snorkeling together."

Andy died while she was away on business on the island of Yap.

"I didn't want to believe it. I just love him so much …,'' she said.

They had gotten engaged in early September. "He made us rings actually that are made out of black pearl oyster shell. They were half black and half white, so they're just beautiful,'' she said.

Andy had gone fishing by himself the day he died. When he hadn't returned by around 4 p.m., his host father and a couple of his fishing buddies launched a search.

When they pulled him up, "he had fish on his line and one of them was half eaten,'' Drew said. "They brought him up and tried to do CPR, but he had been dead for a while."

She said the method of fishing used on the island is to dive down to the ocean floor, wait for a fish and spear it. "They think that he shot the big fish and it was really strong and it surprised him and that he hit his forehead and he was instantly knocked out and killed,'' Drew said.

Islanders were heartbroken and asked his family to bury him on Fais. "They had a funeral for him like he was one of their sons,'' his fiancee said.

"He would write letters telling me how wonderful the people are,'' Joseph Buth said.

He was buried on Nov. 2, overlooking the ocean. "It's like the perfect dream place to have your final resting place,'' Drew said.

"He was always trying to find a place where you could live without money. He found that place where everybody told him didn't exist. He spent a lot of years trying to find himself, not knowing how, or knowing where. When he came to Micronesia, he was the happiest, happiest he had ever been. He finally found this paradise that he had been looking for.''

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

Free spirit Andy Buth drowns in Micronesia, his paradise 11/30/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 1:24pm]
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