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Pasco County search continues for 'level-headed' boater

Run aground on a sandbar near the north end of Anclote Key, Mark Portus’ boat was found with its engine running but no one aboard. It was towed to Anclote Village Marina in Holiday. The Coast Guard says there are no plans to end its search.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Run aground on a sandbar near the north end of Anclote Key, Mark Portus’ boat was found with its engine running but no one aboard. It was towed to Anclote Village Marina in Holiday. The Coast Guard says there are no plans to end its search.

PORT RICHEY — Mark Portus' family knew he went fishing by himself Monday morning, and when he wasn't home that evening, they went looking.

About 6 p.m. they found his truck still parked at American Marina, where he had launched into the Pithlachascotee River earlier that day, said Steve Harper, Portus' brother-in-law. They called the Coast Guard.

An hour and a half later, a crew member from Sea Tow services discovered Portus' 22-foot boat aground on a sandbar near the north end of Anclote Key. The engine was running.

Portus wasn't on board.

As of Tuesday night, the 49-year-old from Hudson was still missing. The Coast Guard has been searching along with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

"We are still searching," said Petty Officer Mariana O'Leary, spokeswoman for the Coast Guard, "and we have no plans to end the search at this time."

Portus and his family run Geotech Construction Services, a Hudson company that specializes in ground stabilization and sinkhole remediation. Portus is the vice president. His brother, David Portus, is the president. Their sister, Christine Harper, is the office manager.

"He works an awful lot," said Steve Harper, his brother-in-law. He said Portus took a vacation day Monday and called the office to let everyone know what he was doing. Harper said Portus is divorced and has an 18-year-old son, Aaron Portus.

Most everyone in the family has a boat, Harper said. He said Portus got his a year ago and he was very particular about it.

"He'd spend two days washing and waxing it before taking it out," Harper said.

He said Portus wouldn't speed or do anything silly while boating. He just liked to relax on his boat and fish. Portus never would have left the boat on his own, Harper said.

"It doesn't make sense," Harper said. "He's a level-headed guy."

He thinks maybe a wave came and knocked Portus off the boat, which kept driving away, leaving him in the water.

"We don't know if the boat went straight or zigzagged," said Gary Morse, spokesman for Florida Fish and Wildlife. "There are very little clues."

Morse said the water is warm this time of year, which is good for survival.

Steve Harper said the rest of the family is keeping hope Portus will be found and they are doing as well as can be expected. They are worried and have slept little since Monday night.

A family friend who owns an airplane searched for Portus on Monday night and Tuesday. Debbi Stark, who works at Geotech as an administrative assistant, said Portus' friends, family and customers also participated in the search.

"They're out in boats, trying to find Mark," she said. "There's a lot of people that are interested."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy and reporters Luis Perez, Emily Nipps and Helen Anne Travis contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Missing boater Mark Portus is from Hudson. A story Wednesday gave an incorrect city.

Pasco County search continues for 'level-headed' boater 08/18/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 20, 2009 1:36pm]
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