South Florida

Lone survivor held on to sinking boat as his friends drowned one by one

Robert Stewart, the survivor of the boat incident off St. Lucie Inlet, is taken to Martin Memorial Hospital.
Robert Stewart, the survivor of the boat incident off St. Lucie Inlet, is taken to Martin Memorial Hospital.

The single survivor said he held onto the child as long as he could, but eventually had to let go.

Robert Stewart was the only survivor of a tragic boating accident that claimed three lives, including a 9-year-old child who was wearing a life jacket. Martin County sheriff’s deputies found the 45-year-old wandering on the beach Monday after he spent the night holding onto the sunken boat.

“His statement is really very simple. They went fishing sometime yesterday morning. They got outside to about 80 feet of water and turned the engine off to go fishing and the boat got swamped immediately, filled up. The boat did not turn over. It appears to have stayed flat and below the surface,” Martin County Sheriff William Snyder told WPTV.

The sheriff’s office tweeted video of Robert Stewart walking from the recovery helicopter. He is listed in critical condition at Martin Memorial Hospital.

Stewart was one of four, including Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy Fernandez Jones and his son, who set out on an 8 a.m. fishing trip Sunday from Sandprit Park in Stuart. Also on board was Willis Bell.

Family members of 51-year-old Jones told the Palm Beach Post he was an experienced fisherman who had just introduced his son, Jayden, to fishing recently. Jones obviously loved the sea. His profile photo on his Facebook page shows a picture of two boat engines. Another picture from January shows his 9-year-old son holding a fish and smiling.

Officers say the 24-foot black Sea Ray sank only a few hours after they left the park. The wind was blowing around 23 mph during the fishing trip, and waves were around six feet, according to reports.

Jones’ wife called police after her husband and son didn’t return by sunset. She said the fishing trips generally took them in the Intracoastal Waterway and offshore in Stuart.

Jones, who is a father of five, spent 17 years as a corrections officer in Miami-Dade before leaving in 2011, said Miami-Dade corrections administrator Chandra Gavin. He spent the last year and a half with Palm Beach County.

The other three bodies washed ashore, one near the House of Refuge museum and the others in in the St. Lucie Inlet, according to the sheriff’s office.

"Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the deceased during this very difficult time. Despite our best efforts, this case ended in tragedy with the loss of two fathers and a son," Chief Warrant Officer Randy Ryan of Coast Guard Station Fort Pierce.

This article was supplemented with information from the Associated Press.