Man falls off fishing boat, floats in Gulf for 20 hours

Coast Guard crews rescued Bill Durden 18 miles off shore from the Homossasa River.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – The U.S. Coast Guard rescued a boater who’d been missing for at least 20 hours. Bill Durden was located 18 miles offshore from the Homossasa River when rescue crews found him Thursday.

“They flew by, and I thought they didn’t see me and then a few hundred yards later, they dropped the flair and I was like, ‘Yes. I’m going to live through this thing,'” Durden said.

Durden lives in Reno, Nevada, but has a home in Homossasa. He went boating Wednesday afternoon. He said he fell over while fishing.

“I walked back to grab the rod and something yanked it, a fish. And pulled me right over,” Durden said.

At 9:20 p.m. Wednesday Coast Guard watchstanders in St. Petersburg received a report from Durden’s wife. She said he’d left their summer residence on the Homosassa River at 10:30 a.m. aboard a 22-foot boat and had not returned.

At 1:10 a.m. Thursday Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission crew members located the 22-foot boat in the mangroves near St. Martins Keys.

An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter rescue crew from Air Station Clearwater and a boat crew from Station Yankeetown were launched to aid in the serach.

The U.S. Coast Guard spotted Durden Thursday morning. “I was looking out the side window and all of a sudden something came across my vision,” said Jacob Latour with the Coast Guard.

Tired, dehydrated and freezing cold, Durden made one last effort to be seen.

“Two arms were waving at me. My adrenaline spiked. I yelled, ‘Mark,’ dropped a flair and went to go find him again,” Latour said.

Durden credits his Navy training with helping him survive but  said it’s the U.S. Coast Guard crews who are the real heroes.

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