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Authorities search St. Johns River for boy in Palatka

Man and 9-year-old boy fell into water

PALATKA, Fla. – Search crews looking for a 9-year-old boy who is believed to have fallen into the St. Johns River are now in a search and recovery mode.

The child's family says his name is Johnathan Tate Ricks, but he went by Tate.  They have gathered in the area waiting for answers as investigators search. 

Johnathan Tate Ricks
Johnathan Tate Ricks

Suzette Guess, who says she is the child's grandmother says the family is trying to hold it together, stay positive and keep praying. "He loves to fish, loves to ride four wheelers, go hunting," Guess says. "He loves NASCAR. Just a fun-loving kid."

Guess says family members are coming from Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia. She says the family also has friends and family locally.

"Everybody's just trying to hang together, stay together," Guess says. "Come together and do a lot of praying."

Guess is asking the community to pray.

"Pray that they find him and that's he's OK," Just remember us and his mama. He's got a little sister think of her too."

Putnam County sheriff Jeff Hardy says multiple law enforcement vessels are currently engaged in grid searches using underwater sonar. Divers and aviation units will continue to deploy as the situation dictates.

Investigators said it happened in the area of the Corky Bell's restaurant on U.S. 17. The search area includes the St. Johns River from U.S. 17 to Memorial Bridge to the north and Pico Road to the south.

Officials tell News4Jax a boy and a family friend were in a 14 boat johnboat around 5:30 p.m. fishing Saturday. The boat was hit by a wake left by another boat. The impact sent both the man and child into the water. Investigators do not believe the child was wearing a life jacket.

The man was able to surface and make it back to shore, but the boy did not.

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Capt. Joe Wells, with the Putnam County Sheriff's Office, said five crews are currently searching, and investigators expect to search as long as conditions are safe.

"We haven't and will not give up. We are not going to send crews home tonight. They will remain on the river all night long," said Wells. "We will switch to a different crew in the morning and continue right on through the weekend, into next week, whatever it takes to locate this young man and bring closure to his family."

Wells says crews are using underwater sonar and thermal imaging technology to search and search conditions have been good.

"The water is calm," Wells says. "We are running about 79 to 81 degrees depending on the depth. Luckily so far and we will hope for that to continue, that the search conditions will be ideal for us."

Wells says the water depth ranges from very shallow, a couple feet to20 feet inside the channel, but the average is about eight to 12 feet of depth.

Boaters are encouraged to avoid the search area if possible and to exercise extreme caution while traveling in the search area.