PORT RICHEY — The family of the New Port Richey boater who went missing at sea three days ago is urging private boaters and pilots to join the search. The help could result in a $20,000 reward for anyone who finds 49-year old Mark Portus alive.
"We believe he's out there paddling," said family friend Harold Hayes, who announced the reward Wednesday morning. "He has no known medical condition and knows how to make a flotation device with his clothes."
Portus' brother David, 18-year-old son Aaron and friends of Portus have offered the money as an attempt to help the Coast Guard, which has been searching for Portus since Monday evening. Coast Guard representatives could not be immediately reached Wednesday morning, and it's unclear whether they know of the family's plea for the public's help.
Portus went fishing Monday near Anclote Key, departing the Pithlachascotee River on a 22-foot fishing boat about 9 a.m., according to the Coast Guard. At 6 p.m., his family contacted the Coast Guard in St. Petersburg and reported him missing.
At 7:30 p.m., a crew member from Sea Tow Services discovered Portus' boat aground on a sandbar near the north end of Anclote Key, its engine running and no one on board. The Coast Guard launched a 25-foot rescue boat and an HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Clearwater to search for Portus. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Pasco County Sheriff's Office have also assisted in the search.
Portus' family believes he was hunting for a good fishing spot and may have been knocked over by a rogue wave, which would explain why his boat was running on idle, Hayes said. There were no signs of foul play, according to authorities.
The family is trying to reach out to charter boat captains and airplane or helicopter rental businesses that might be able to help. Hayes urged anyone interested in assisting in the search to contact him at (229) 588-0931.
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