JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The family of a Navy man and his 7-year-old son who were swept away by the current while fishing in the St. Johns River on Saturday have a message for the community.
The body of 35-year-old Eric Smart was found in the Fort George Inlet late Saturday night. Searchers found Derrick Smart's body the next morning.
The family lives near the Alamacani Bridge where the father and son were last seen alive. They were at a loss for words to describe their pain, but begged anyone who fishes in the area to wear a life vest. They believe it could've saved these two lives.
A heartbroken family is planning two funerals for their loved ones.
The water appears calm and shallow, but fisherman Gary Turner said a strong tide, currents and a big boat passing can be a dangerous combination.
"It's so nice out here right now. Everything looks so gentle, but in a heartbeat, if they were wade-fishing, they could step off. And if they are not a good summer (the) current takes them away," Turner said.
According to police, adults were fishing as children played on the beach about 4 p.m. Saturday when suddenly the water level rose. The adults got the children out, but Smart and his son were still in the water.
A witness saw Smart holding his son trying to swim back to shore, but the current took him out into the sea.
These are not the first deaths in the area. On July 5, 6-year-old Edward Arroyo-Zamudio drowned in Fort George Inlet near the Alamacani Boat Ramp.
So what makes this beautiful water so dangerous? Avid kayakers and boaters said the channels below the water are narrow and when water comes through, the currents can be very strong and almost impossible to resist.
Turner agrees the water can be dangerous and hopes that no one else loses their life.
"That just breaks your heart to know somebody trying to enjoy, especially family, and then have that kind of heartbreak happen," Turner said.
We checked for signs encouraging fishermen to wear life vests, but couldn't find one. There is a sign warning swimmers not to dive.
News4Jax reached out to the city of Jacksonville to learn more about this area and if any safety complaints or concerns have been filed. It had not responded by the end of the day.
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