Officials: ‘Recovery efforts’ underway for missing watercraft rider

MIAMI (WSVN) - Recovery efforts continue for a man who never surfaced from a body of water near Miami International Airport after, officials said, he fell off a personal watercraft, Monday afternoon.

Dive teams resumed the search for the 32-year-old victim, who family members identified as Manuel Aponte, early Tuesday morning. Aponte is a husband and also a father of a 1-year-old, according to family members.

According to officials, the man stayed behind after riding around on a personal watercraft with a group of friends. Witnesses told investigators they saw him fall into the water after a wave hit the watercraft.

Miami Fire Rescue responded to the scene in the Blue Lagoon, located between the airport and Northwest Seventh Street, off the Dolphin Expressway.

Security guard Rick Rojo told 7News he saw the rider going up and splashing into the lagoon after he hit the wave. “It’s almost like he hit something,” he said. “I’m not sure. The JetSki almost came to a full stop, and he just catapulted over it, landed head first, feet in the air.”

Friends circled around to the spot where the rider fell but were unable to locate him. “His friends … as they went back by, they saw his abandoned JetSki, and they pointed out to me, ‘Look! That’s where he went in. That’s where he went in,'” said Rojo.

Rescue divers hit the murky waters to comb the area.

First responders said they spotted several items but not the missing 32-year-old. “We did find the watercraft that was floating,” said Carroll. “We did also locate a life vest that was floating in the water. It has not been determined whether it belongs to him or not.”

As night fell, rescuers were forced to scale back, as the search moved into recovery mode. “After over an hour and a half of searching in the water, we have still not found this individual,” Miami Fire Rescue Capt. Ignatius Carroll told 7News, at around 5:30 p.m., Monday. “This is moving into a recovery effort with [Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission] as well as Miami Police.”

7News cameras captured crews searching the lagoon and a Miami-Dade Police helicopter circling above. “They brought in a sonar to try to do a search,” said Carroll. “A lot of this type of equipment is usually found in the boats out there, in the bodies of water in the ocean, but we brought it in here, right now, to see if we could use that for the search.”

Concerned family members gathered at the scene, as minutes turned to hours. One woman, visibly shaken, was seen speaking with a police officer.

“Even though this is a pretty wide area, it’s pretty much contained, so we’re hoping that we’re going to be able to give this family some news,” said Carroll.

However, with darkness falling, the depth of the water and the winds picking up, recovery efforts have been challenging for crews. “We’re gonna have very minimal light,” said Carroll. “Also, the winds have picked up pretty much, so the current is really pushing, so it’s going to make the waters rather rough for the divers that are going in.”

The depth of the Blue Lagoon can reach up to 40 feet.

Monday night, Florida Fish and Wildlife kept boats out on the water with sonar technology, hoping to pick up any trace of the rider. “You can imagine, with the lagoon, you’ve got the waters that are very murky. You’ve got a lot of seaweed that is down there, so it’s not going to be a very easy search,” said Carroll.

 

Copyright 2017 Sunbeam Television Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.