The afternoon boat ride was supposed to be a time of joy. To celebrate their one-year anniversary, Winter Haven couple Velcky Velasquez, 38, and her boyfriend, Orlando Ortiz, 32, rented a boat Saturday with a friend and his two daughters and headed out into the middle of Lake Eloise in central Polk County. a lake that shares part of its shore with Legoland.
But more than 24 hours later, search and rescue crews were still searching for Ortiz and their friend Jeffrey Marrero, who were presumed drowned.
Shortly after 4 p.m. Saturday, Marrero’s 10-year-old daughter called 911 and said she and her eight-year-old sister were alone on the boat. Two Polk County deputies headed to the nearby Lake Summit boat ramp, knowing there was no public access to Lake Eloise, according to a news release.
When they arrived, they spotted a man putting his fishing boat in the water and asked for help finding the children. He transported deputies from Lake Summit and through the canal to Lake Eloise, according to the release.
Deputies, Glenda Eichholtz and Jonathan Munoz found Velasquez treading water in the lake. She said she jumped in with an anchor to secure it to the boat. But due to the wind and strong waves, the 16-foot boat began to drift.
They also discovered two sisters floating on the boat, surrounded by a two-meter long chop.
Both of them disappeared.
Ortiz and Marrero — who, Velasquez told deputies, are not strong swimmers — jumped into the water to help her. The men went under the water, she told deputies. Meanwhile, with the two girls on board, the boat continued to float.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at a news conference Sunday morning that the couple took a boating safety class before leaving shore, but they were inexperienced sailors.
The sheriff’s marine unit worked with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Seminole County deputies and used an underwater drone to search Lake Eloise, Judd said.
The lake has since been closed to the public as the search continues.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.