Fishermen return unaware they were subject of massive search

‘Drop Hook’ returns 6 hours after Coast Guard thought boat sent out Mayday

A family breathes a sigh of relief after a missing charter boat made it safely back to the dock at the Mayport boat ramp.

MAYPORT, Fla. – After an hours-long search by the U.S. Coast Guard, family and friends at the Mayport boat ramp greeted a “missing” fishing charter back to shore just after 8 p.m. Saturday.

U.S. Coast Guard representatives, who had been searching for the fishing vessel Drop Hook after believing it sent a Mayday call at 2:17 p.m. Saturday, were also on the dock anxious to find out where the boat had been. They debriefed Capt. Mike Ardolino, his first mate and at least five passengers.

Ardolino told News4Jax the boat was never in distress but he called the Coast Guard to report seeing flares. When the USCG couldn’t get back in touch with him, it assumed he was in distress and launched a search.

Ardolino said they fished for several more hours having no idea a massive search was underway until he got closer to shore and heard from his wife.

He said he had no idea where the original flares he saw came from.

The Coast Guard received a distress call two hours after the boat had been boarded by Florida Fish and Wildlife officers for a routine inspection. Everything was fine during the inspection, the Coast Guard said.

A spokesperson said the Coast Guard was not able to get coordinates for the vessel when it made the distress call, so they were searching based on the location where the FWC boarded the boat at noon -- 12 nautical miles northeast of the St. Johns Inlet, which is between the jetties where the river goes out to the Atlantic Ocean.

The Coast Guard said local crews searched by sea and Coast Guard Station Savannah and Coast Guard Station Clearwater offered search support by air.

But he’s thankful for the community’s outpouring of support and the fervent prayers all across northeast florida that have been answered.

“When I came back I found that it was on the internet and I had no idea,” Ardolino said. “We were 50 miles offshore and we were trying to come back in and the storm hit us and it was a little rough, so we had to do about 10 miles per hour.”

For a couple of hours before the Drop Hook returned, there were about a dozen people out at the Mayport dock praying for their safe return.

Ardolino is thankful for the community’s outpouring of support and the fervent prayers all across Northeast Florida.

Overdue charter boat returns to dock. (WJXT)

Previous outing

Ardolino runs deep sea fishing charters out of Jacksonville and St. Augustine.

Greg Reid said he was out on the Drop Hook for 12 hours one day last week and had nothing but good things to say about his experience. He was concerned when he heard that boat was missing.

“I was kind of shocked when I heard about it on the news tonight,” Reid said.

Reid said he was relieved to hear the boat, crew and passengers were safe.

Reid said they did have one small issue onboard during his outing.

“We found one issue with a filter that was a little bit loose,” Reid said. “So it rained pretty good throughout the day after we found that problem everything was pretty good.”

Reid added that Ardolino is great at what he does.

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A Florida-born, Emmy Award winning journalist and proud NC A&T SU grad