Thursday, May 24, 2018
Public safety

Search for two missing in gulf waters now called a recovery operation

ST. PETE BEACH — The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office shifted its search and rescue mission for a 21-year-old college student and the boat mate who tried to rescue him to a recovery late Friday morning.

The decision came the morning after the U.S. Coast Guard decided to call off its search for the missing men, who were swept away by a current in the Gulf of Mexico near Pass-A-Grille on Tuesday night.

On Friday morning the Sheriff's Office deployed three vessels and its helicopter "the Eagle" as they searched for 21-year-old Colorado State University student Jie Luo, of China, and Andrew Dillman, 27, of New York.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation commission is still assisting, said Sgt. Spencer Gross with the Sheriff's Office.

"We are hopeful we can still locate them," he said.

Deputies will search through the weekend until dusk on Sunday using their flight and marine units as well as their dive team and land patrols.

If the men still are not found by the end of the weekend, the Sheriff's Office will continue extra patrols by land and water. The flight unit will do "spot checks" when available.

The Coast Guard ended its search before 8 p.m. on Thursday.

For three days, helicopters flew above the gulf while boats scoured the waters as three to four local agencies hoped to find the two men who were on board a charter boat rented by 15 students, including Jie.

Up until Friday morning, the Coast Guard said there were 39 searches totaling 80 aircraft and surface hours that covered more than 1,577 square miles — an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Jie Luo and Andrew Dillman," said Coast Guard Capt. Holly Najarian in a prepared statement. "Suspending a search is the most difficult decision I have to make in my position, and despite our best efforts, we were unable to reunite Andrew and Jie with their families."

PREVIOUS: Pinellas sheriff: Search continues for two missing men swept into Gulf of Mexico

Jie was on the charter boat — the Jaguar — on Tuesday with other Chinese international students from his university. The group planned a spring break trip based in Orlando, but spent $2,000 for a cruise around the gulf leaving from St. Petersburg.

When waters were too harsh to go out deep into the water, the captain of the boat, Todd Davis, anchored near Shell Key.

What happened next is unclear: The students say they asked to go in the water and Davis did not tell them it wouldn't be safe. Five students jumped from the boat into the frigid water a total of three times, deputies said. Davis told deputies he did, in fact, tell the students that going into the water wasn't safe.

After the students' last trip into the water, Jie appeared fatigued and struggled to swim back to the boat. Dillman jumped in the water in an attempt to save him.

Then the students and crew members on the 71-foot Sea Ray charter boat watched as a current carried the two men out into the gulf.

Davis said he couldn't get his anchor up quick enough to get to them.

Jie is a senior in business who planned to graduate next year with a degree in finance and real estate. Dillman works for Florida Yacht Charter and posted photos to Facebook showing off his job: days spent on big boats on Florida's beautiful waters.

"We're just keeping our hopes up," said his younger sister, Shelby Dillman, 24, earlier this week. "We're just staying positive."

Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] Follow @sara_dinatale.

Comments

Woman hit, killed while crossing road in Tampa

TAMPA — A pedestrian was struck and killed by a vehicle while crossing N 40th Street near E Hanlon Street on Wednesday night, according to Tampa police.The crash took place just before 8 p.m. The driver was heading north on 40th Street before strikin...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Son tells NC police he found dog leash around neck of strangled Hillsborough developer Bill Bishop

Son tells NC police he found dog leash around neck of strangled Hillsborough developer Bill Bishop

After a prominent Hillsborough County developer died last month in North Carolina, word spread it was a heart attack that claimed his life.But records from that state show the death of William "Bill" Bishop was much more complicated.His 16-year-old s...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Coast Guard suspends search for man missing from Tampa cruise

Coast Guard suspends search for man missing from Tampa cruise

The Coast Guard announced Wednesday night that it has suspended the search for a man who was reported to have gone overboard from a cruise ship that left Tampa.Officials aboard the Carnival Paradise told the Coast Guard on Tuesday morning that Brian ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Three arrested for street racing after mother fatally struck pushing stroller on Bayshore Boulevard

Three arrested for street racing after mother fatally struck pushing stroller on Bayshore Boulevard

TAMPA — The two cars raced each other along Bayshore Boulevard just before noon, witnesses told police. One was a black 2018 Mustang. The other a gold Nissan. They sped side-by-side, trading the lead, police said, despite the traffic and pedestrians ...
Updated: 6 hours ago

Sinkhole opens up near Bayfront Health’s Brooksville hospital

BROOKSVILLE — A large sinkhole opened up by Bayfront Health Brooksville hospital in a water retention pond between State Road 50 and the hospital’s parking lot, according to a hospital spokeswoman.The sinkhole poses no threat to hospital buildings, e...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Clearwater deputy fire chief resigns as report on sick leave abuse is released

Clearwater deputy fire chief resigns as report on sick leave abuse is released

CLEARWATER — A months-long probe into abuse of sick leave within the fire department concluded this week with the resignation of a deputy chief and the release of an internal review.The city paid $93,816 in unearned or unauthorized sick time, benefit...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Wrong-way driver, 87, dies in head-on collision, FHP says

Wrong-way driver, 87, dies in head-on collision, FHP says

BROOKSVILLE— An 87-year-old wrong-way driver died Tuesday night when she collided head-on with an oncoming pick-up truck, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The crash took place at about 8:50 p.m. on Sunshine Grove Road near Webster Street.Patri...
Updated: 10 hours ago
FDLE: Victim in $480,000 scam is heiress to Wrigley gum fortune

FDLE: Victim in $480,000 scam is heiress to Wrigley gum fortune

A woman state authorities say was scammed out of $480,000 by two of her employees is an heiress to the Wrigley chewing gum fortune.The Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed Tuesday that the victim in the case is Helen Rich, 69, formerly Hel...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Carlton: Lowering the American flag for the newly dead at school — again

Carlton: Lowering the American flag for the newly dead at school — again

In a scene repeated at public buildings across the country, the American flag in front of the library outside my office window was lowered to half-staff this week.This time for 10 dead in Texas.In February, the American flag was similarly half-staff ...
Published: 05/23/18
Largo man broke into jewelry store, cut himself on glass and bled all over everything, police say

Largo man broke into jewelry store, cut himself on glass and bled all over everything, police say

A Largo man was arrested Monday after police said he broke into the front door of a jewelry store and stole $10,000 in jewelry, but cut himself in the process and left blood all over the store.Police arrested Jaime Williams, 31, on a charge of burgla...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/23/18