Fisherman finds woman’s body in lake; FWC continues search

OKEECHOBEE — The search continues this week for a man whose airboat sank near Lakeport on Feb. 6.

On Saturday, a woman’s body was found in the lake about 15 miles from the area where the airboat went down.

According to Carol Lyn Parrish, Public Information Coordinator, FWC South Region, on Saturday, Feb. 13, around 4:15 p.m., FWC received a call from a fisherman advising he had observed a body in Lake Okeechobee in the Clewiston area. FWC officers responded and recovered the body of a deceased woman.

The body was found about 15 miles from the Feb. 6 airboat accident scene.

The victim was turned over to the Lee County Medical Examiner’s office for verification on the identity and determination of cause of death.

John Russ, 72, and his wife, Diane Russ, 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 FWC 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.

Around 7:30 p.m. 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, which is just east of Lakeport.

Ms. Parrish said while the location of the sunken boat was only about 4.5 miles from the boat ramps at Harney Pond “as the crow flies,” the distance by boat was about 6 miles, as boaters must avoid some areas of heavy vegetation.

On Monday, Feb. 8, divers were able to determine that the sunken craft was the Russes’ boat.

FWC recovered the airboat on Feb. 9.

Since Feb. 9, FWC has continued to search for the missing couple using boats and air support.

At press time on Tuesday, Feb. 16, the Medical Examiner’s Office had not yet confirmed the identity of the woman found in the lake. In response to the newspaper’s inquiry, an email from the District 21 Medical Examiner’s Office stated, “This matter is under an active investigation and, pursuant to Florida Statute 119.071, no further information can be released by the District 21 Medical Examiner’s Office.”

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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