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Search for missing fisherman remains unsuccessful

1:48 PM, May 31, 2013   |    comments
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FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. - Authorities in Nassau County continued their search Friday for the body of a missing fisherman who is believed to be deceased.

But as of mid-afternoon, they said they had not found it or any traces of his whereabouts.

Caster Gray, 17, of Georgia was fishing with friends and family in shallow water on Thursday afternoon at Fort Clinch State Park in Fernandina Beach.

Authorities said the fishing net Gray was using got caught, and he stepped into deeper water.

Captain Jim Norman with the Fernandina Beach Police Department said Gray did not know how to swim, so he was pulled underwater by what he called a strong rip current.

"The tides were very strong yesterday (Thursday). So yesterday we had a very strong easterly wind with an outgoing tide that was going against the wind. So we had currents that were going different directions," he said.

Gray's cousin, Hayward Collier, went into the water to try and rescue Gray.

But Norman said Collier began to struggle himself. Then, Norman said Collier's grandfather, Willie Hallback, went into the water to try and save both men.

Norman said Hallback was only able to save Collier. Hallback told First Coast News he brought Gray fishing as a thanks for helping him with some recent work.

"If I had known this was going to happen, I wouldn't have let him came," he said.

The initial search for Gray consisted of the U.S. Coast Guard and Florida Wildlife Commission, but those agencies did not appear to be on scene Friday.

Norman said the search efforts right now consist of a marine unit from the Nassau County Sheriff's Office and ATVs from the Fernandina Police Department.

One airplane was also seen circling the sky over the state park.

The search, Norman said, is confined to three square miles to the east of Fort Clinch at the mouth of the St. Marys River.

Norman said authorities' best chance of finding Gray's body is in the first 48 hours. But he said search crews would continue their efforts over the next couple of days.

"We're doing everything we can to make a recovery for the family," Norman said.

Gray's sister came to Florida from Georgia after hearing what happened. She told First Coast News she had special plans with her brother Friday.

"I was going to take him to get his driver's license," she said.

Now, she and other friends and family, are waiting to see if the body of their loved one will be recovered.

But Normal said there is a possibility that closure will never come.

"It's possible the victim was swept out to sea," he said.

Meanwhile, First Coast News is first for you with information that puts this presumed death into context.

On the same day it happened 19 years ago, May 30, 1994, five people drowned and eight others were hurt in rip current accidents in Nassau County.

It was one of the worst rip current events in Florida history.


First Coast News

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