Body of missing man recovered in Peace River

Austin Welch jumped into river to save his sister Saturday, deputies say

Photos courtesy of the Polk County Sheriff's Office.
Photos courtesy of the Polk County Sheriff's Office.

BARTOW, Fla. – The body of an 18-year-old man missing from Peace River was found Saturday afternoon, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

Austin Welch went missing at 11:30 a.m. Saturday after jumping into the Peace River to save his sister.

Deputies said a mother and her two children were fishing off the dock at the canoe launch/boat ramp off State Road 60 when her daughter lost her footing and fell in.

The mother's son, Austin Welch, jumped in after his sister. Deputies said the mother also jumped in.

The water is deep and the current is very fast, deputies said. The mother and daughter were able to get to shore, but Welch was still missing Saturday.

With the assistance of Florida Fish and Wildlife Officers, Welch's body was recovered from the Peace River. FWC utilized side-scanning sonar from their boats, which detected the presence of something near where Welch was last seen going under water.

The PCSO Dive Team entered the water where the image was seen on the sonar, and recovered his body.

"Austin lost his life saving the life of his 11-year-old sister. We had hoped and prayed that we would find him safe on the shore somewhere. We searched for him for 24 hours, as if he were one of our own family members. Please keep his family in your prayers," said Sheriff Grady Judd.

An autopsy will be conducted to determine exact cause of death, however, this appears to be an accidental drowning.

The Sheriff's Office, FWC and Polk County Fire Rescue emergency medical services helped searched for Welch.

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