U.S. Coast Guard officials on Friday recovered what they believed was the body of David Delade, a Homosassa shrimper whose boat was found grounded on a rocky shoal near the Crystal River power plant.
Coast Guard spokesman Robert Suddarth said the body was found floating in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday by people aboard another boat, the Trinity, about 15 miles southwest of the plant.
The discovery brought to a halt a 36-hour search for Delade, who friends said has been a shrimper for nearly 20 years.
While the body had yet to be identified as of 5 p.m. Friday, Suddarth said it was most likely Delade.
Delade, 35, was supposed to report to Lawson Seafood on Wednesday morning. When he failed to show up, owner John Lawson contacted local authorities.
The Coast Guard began combing the waters off Citrus County by helicopter and boat Wednesday night, Suddarth said.
The last confirmed contact with Delade was about 4 a.m. Wednesday, when a boater reported hearing him on the radio saying he was lost, Suddarth said.
Another boater said he saw Delade in the water, Suddarth said, although an exact time had not been confirmed as of Friday. Delade appeared to be cutting seaweed from his boat's propeller.
Delade had been fishing about 10 miles off the coast of Homosassa with an assistant, a 17-year-old boy, Tuesday evening and early Wednesday.
About 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, the boy radioed for another boat to take him ashore. Authorities did not release the boy's name.
Lt. Dennis Delapaz of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is handling the investigation into Delade's disappearance, said he has not yet interviewed the boy and doesn't know why he wanted to leave the boat.
Foul play is not suspected.
"It looks like it's going to be a boating accident," Delapaz said.
The Coast Guard contacted local law enforcement agencies to join in the search Thursday. Family members were assisting, too, Delapaz said.
Delade's boat, the Tuff Enuff, was found in a shallow canal near the power plant Wednesday evening, Suddarth said. It did not appear to be damaged.
While the Coast Guard concentrated its search on the water, they did not rule out the possibility Delade was able to escape from the accident alive, Suddarth said.
D.J. Lawson, manager of Lawson's Seafood, said Delade had been a shrimper for decades.
"He definitely knew what he was doing out on the water," Lawson said.
He said Delade was unmarried and lived with his mother, Maryian.
Lawson said he has no idea what happened to his longtime friend.
"You can sit here and speculate all day, but all it will be is speculation," he said.
_ Crime reporter Carrie Johnson can be reached at 860-7309 or cjohnsonsptimes.com.