Fund set up for son of couple lost on lake

OKEECHOBEE — A fund has been set up for the special needs adult son of a couple who died after their airboat sank in Lake Okeechobee earlier this month.

The Russ Family Crisis Fund is on

John “Elwin” and Diane Russ were caught in a storm while fishing on Lake Okeechobee on Feb. 6.

Diane and John Russ

Diane and John Russ

Mr. Russ, 72, and his wife, 62, of Myakka City, were reported missing when they failed to return from an airboat trip on the evening of Saturday, Feb. 6.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission report, the Manatee County couple put their airboat in at Harney Pond in Glades County. They were last seen fishing near Bird Island, east of Lakeport.

They were reported missing Feb. 6, at 8:43 p.m. by a friend after they did not return from their fishing trip when expected. FWC officials, along with help from the Glades County Sheriff’s Office, Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office, Lee County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Coast Guard, searched for the couple on the night of Feb. 6 and throughout Feb. 7. On Feb. 7, FWC reported that a 15-foot 2000 Panther model airboat had been found in about 12 feet of water.

The boat was found on the west, open-water side of Bird Island. On Monday, Feb. 8, divers were able to determine that the sunken craft was the Russes’ boat. FWC recovered the airboat on Feb. 9.

On Saturday, Feb. 13, fishermen reported a woman’s body in the lake, about 15 miles southeast of the area the boat went down. FWC recovered the body.

On Thursday, Feb. 18, a man’s body was found by fishermen about 3.5 miles from the place the woman’s body had been recovered.

According to Carol Lyn Parrish, public information coordinator, FWC South Region, both bodies were turned over to the Lee County Medical Examiner’s office for verification on the identity and determination of cause of death.

While the District 21 Medical Examiner’s Office has yet to release any information about the case, family members have confirmed the bodies found were the missing boaters.

Darrell Duquette said he identified his sister’s body.

“It was hard, but she did have her driver’s license on her,” he stated.

He said the family has set up an online fund if anyone would like to help with donations.

“Their mentally handicapped son will need continued, ongoing care for the rest of his life,” he explained. “You can imagine the burden of losing both parents —  the strain this is going to place on the family.”

“Your precious donations will help cover Diane and John Elwin’s funeral expenses, as well as support their special needs son’s monthly expenses of doctor bills and medicine,” states the website.

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