CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. – Authorities found the missing Lake County boater alive on Thursday afternoon, hours after his empty boat was found in the Gulf of Mexico earlier in the day.
The Coast Guard said Efstathios Moumouris, 51, was reported missing by his wife after he didn't return from his fishing trip out of the Fort Island boat ramp Wednesday.
Search crews located his 16-foot boat nine miles west of the boat ramp at approximately 4 a.m., without Moumouris aboard, officials said.
Later Thursday afternoon, Moumouris was found alive bobbing in the water by Todd Hoy and his family when they were out scalloping.
"There was a lot of people out there, luckily we saw him," says Hoy.
Moumouris' wife said he texted a picture of a fish he caught around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and also texted he was heading back a short time later. No one had heard from him since.
The rescuers told WTSP-TV they had been out scalloping, but heard that a boater was missing, so were also keeping an eye out for him. When they found Moumouris, he reportedly was not wearing a life jacket, but had been able to tread water for at least 18 hours.
Moumouris' family told Local 6 it really was a miracle that he survived because they don't consider Moumouris a strong swimmer, but said he fought so hard to survive, to not give up on everyone.
Moumouris reportedly fell overboard during a storm and tried to find a life jacket, but couldn't get one in time.
He was taken to Seven Rivers Regional Medical Center in Crystal River with no injuries and is in good condition, Coast Guard officials say.
"He was swimming the whole time, trying not to pass out. Thank the good Lord those people found him," said Moumouris' wife of 28 years, Anastasia. "Its a miracle, it really is. I wouldn't expect anyone to survive."
FWC crews, a 27-foot Special Purpose Craft — Shallow Water boatcrew from Station Yankeetown, A MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew and a C-130 Hercules aircraft crew from Air Station Clearwater, and Citrus County Sheriff's Office marine units assisted in the search, according to USCG.
Watch Local 6 for more on this story.