HUDSON — Even as they drove to the Coast Guard station to identify the body Friday morning, Mark Portus' family didn't believe it was him.
"We never gave up," said Harold Hayes, a family friend of Portus, 49, who never returned from a fishing trip Monday.
A boater saw a body about 10 miles west of Hudson at 8 a.m. Friday. Hayes identified his friend.
Gary Morse, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said an autopsy will confirm cause of death. "At this time, there is no indication of foul play," he said.
Hayes said the family is overwhelmed with gratitude by the community's support this week.
"So many people helped us," he said.
Even though the outcome was not what they wanted, they are thankful to have him back. To never know what happened would have been misery, Hayes said.
"At least we have a father, a brother, a friend to bury," he said.
Portus was vice president of Geotech Construction Services Inc. in Hudson. It's a family business — his brother, David Portus, is the president, their sister, Christine Harper, is the office manager. They are a close family and, after Portus' boat was found empty with the engine running Monday night, they launched their own boats to join in the search. Hayes said David had to be forced ashore to eat and rest. He didn't come in often.
For three days and four nights they lived like this — searching miles of water around Anclote Key, where Portus had been fishing and near where his boat was found.
The Coast Guard, Florida Fish and Wildlife and the Pasco Sheriff's Office searched by boat and by air.
The family rallied volunteers to get more eyes on the water and offered a $20,000 reward for anyone who found Portus alive. They also hired charter boat companies and a private helicopter to join the search.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.