One of the first signs of trouble, charter boat Capt. Mitch Coratella said, was the shoe he spotted floating in the choppy water.
Next, Coratella and the 35 passengers on his Tarpon Springs-based charter fishing vessel, the Blue Fin, saw cooler lids, hats and other boating debris.
The crew followed the trail about a half-mile, where a passenger saw a 15-year-old boy in the water signaling for help.
Dustin Bush — the youngest of four boaters whose 22-foot fishing boat capsized Saturday 11 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico in 4- to 6-foot waves — clung to the unresponsive victim, trying to keep the man's head above water.
The charter boat crew plucked the teen and men out of the water. Coratella said a passenger performed CPR on the unconscious man until they were able to get the boaters to shore.
Richard Green, 55, of New Port Richey was later pronounced dead. An official cause of death has not yet been determined.
Bush "was trying to keep (Green's) head out of the water, but it was impossible with those water conditions and without flotation devices," Coratella said.
The teen "was treading water. He didn't have any flotation device at all. I really don't know how he held onto the guy for that long," Coratella said. "The young guy really felt bad. He was shaken pretty hard."
Authorities say Green and his companions' fishing trip had started at 7 a.m., when winds and seas were calmer. As conditions became choppier in the afternoon, the boaters turned back to shore, said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Gary Morse. But their motor failed, Morse said, so the boaters tried to anchor in about 20 feet of water. A wave swamped the boat and swept them overboard.
None of the capsized boaters was wearing a life jacket. They had been in the water for about an hour by the time the Blue Fin found them, Morse said.
Assisted by the U.S. Coast Guard, the boaters were brought to Anclote Key Preserve State Park around 4:30 p.m. Florida Fish and Wildlife is still investigating the accident.
Green's family thanked his younger passenger for saving the lives of the other men and attempting to save Green's.
"We are saddened by the sudden loss of Rick and would like everyone to know that Rick passed away doing what he loved best. We are deeply grateful to Dustin for his efforts to save Rick," the family said in a statement released to Bay News 9.
Bush told Bay News 9 that he took it upon himself to find items for his fishing buddies to float on. When Green struggled to stay afloat, Bush said he grabbed on.
According to Coratella, rough seas had separated Bush and Green from the other men by about 150 yards.
Bush credited his training for the Gulf High football team, his spearfishing experience and time spent diving with friends with helping him keep his cool. "I swam back and forth in between them both, grabbing other things that were floating and handing it to them and tried to dive underneath the boat and tried to get the life jackets out, but they were just so caught up underneath I just couldn't get them," Bush told Bay News 9.
Blue Fin crew member Donna Wall called the rescue a "miracle."
"There weren't any other boats around out there," she said, "so it was just the right time at the right place."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4153.