FWC searches St. Johns River for missing boater

Crews search for boater on St. Johns River near St. Vincent's Medical Center

Published On: May 26 2013 08:56:53 PM EDT   Updated On: May 27 2013 01:32:55 PM EDT
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is searching the St. Johns River for a boater who never resurfaced after going for a swim Sunday afternoon.

Jacksonville Fire-Rescue, The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and FWC responded, sending dive teams and boats into the water to look for 43-year-old James Ricks on the St. Johns River near St. Vincent's Medical Center. By 9 p.m., the search was turned over to FWC. The search continued Monday morning.

Police said it all started when a group of people went out on a boat. From there, they stopped the boat and one Ricks out.

According to authorities, Ricks went missing around 5:30 p.m. Sunday near the Fuller Warren Bridge. Ricks had been operating the boat, stopped it, jumped into the water, but never resurfaced, authorities said.

"Jumped in the water for a swim. Immediately, the people still on the boat observed he was in distress," said Lt. Sharon Scott with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. "They tossed a line to him and he never resurfaced. That's what we have at this moment."

Officials said the other boaters were able to make it back to shore. Since then, dive teams and multiple organizations have joined in the search. Officials said Ricks is a strong swimmer.

"We have to see what happened. He could have hit a rock. He could have had a heart attack," said Lt. Tony Wright of Fla. Fish & Wildlife. "Water is still pretty chilly. That happens quite often. People get off the boat, have a heart attack and they can't swim."

However, incidents like this happen too often. Officials say Florida leads the nation in the number of boating deaths. They said 67 people were killed in boating accidents in 2011, four of those just in Jacksonville.

With this case, officials said the search will go on until the man is found.

"This individual appeared to voluntarily jump out," said Wright. "No reason to jump out of the boat, especially the St. Johns River with the current and tide the way it runs."