WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (WFLA) — Two boaters were still missing Sunday after an incident at Lake Eloise in Winter Haven, Florida on Saturday, according to officials.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said the incident happened after an anchor mishap involving 38-year-old Velcky Velasquez and 32-year-old Orlando Ortiz, who celebrated their one-year anniversary by renting a boat for the afternoon.
The couple, who were said to be inexperienced with boats and had to take a class beforehand, also brought their friend Jeffrey Marrero and his two children, ages 10 and 8 years old.
“It is a rough day on the water,” Judd said. “The wind’s blowing about 20 miles an hour. There’s a two-foot chop with white caps, and it’s a breezy afternoon.”
Despite the rough waters, the group decided to anchor in the middle of the lake. According to the sheriff, Velasquez jumped into the water with the anchor, but she didn’t have it tied to the boat beforehand.
“She’s just very inexperienced, so she thinks you have to get into the water, put the anchor in, and tie it to the boat,” Judd said.
It was at this point that the boat began floating away, and Velasquez began to struggle, so Ortiz and Marrero jumped in to help.
However, the sheriff said as the three boaters tried to get back to the boat, they could not catch up to the vessel. While Velasquez was able to stay afloat, her partner and their friend had trouble.
“Miss Velasquez said she [saw] them struggling to stay about the water,” Judd said.
Marrero’s 10-year-old child managed to call 911, which notified law enforcement of the situation. Judd said the entire incident occurred in front of the children.
“The 10-year-old is, in essence, responsible for us saving the one lady,” the sheriff said.
Responding deputies were able to get help from a fisherman at the scene to look for victims, which led to them rescuing Velasquez.
However, the boat, which carried Marrero’s two children, ended up in a swampy region of the lake. A deputy was able to get to the children.
According to Judd, the two missing men are believed to have drowned.
The PCSO Marine Unit is getting help from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office in the search for the men’s bodies.
Judd said first responders will not end the search until their bodies are found.
“We don’t allow anyone’s loved one to stay in a lake, and we show up the next morning,” he said. “We’re there. We’re involved. We’re searching for these two missing gentlemen as if they were our brothers or our children.”
He said the men could be at the bottom of the lake, which is 16 feet deep in some parts, or elsewhere in the water.
“They will eventually float if we are unable to locate them in the meantime,” he said.
While the lake is located next to LegoLand, the theme park released a statement saying that the incident did not happen at its attraction:
A boating incident occurred on Lake Eloise yesterday. While the incident did not occur at our attraction and is not connected with us in any way, our staff is providing comfort to the family and the Hotel boardwalk is being utilized as a command center. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time. Please contact the Polk County Sheriff’s Office for any further inquiries.LegoLand Florida Resort
The sheriff praised the resort for their assistance in the search and recovery operation, despite them not being involved in the incident.
“LegoLand could not have been a better community partner,” Judd said.