Two dead in Lake Jesup airboat accident

Orlando Sentinel

The operator of an airboat that crashed Sunday on Lake Jesup, killing himself and one of his four passengers, apparently misjudged the clearance between the water and the underside of the State Road 417 bridge, a state wildlife spokesman said today.

The fan-propelled vessel smacked into the bridge about 7 p.m.

The crash killed operator Mark Anthony Cruz, 51, of Mims, and passenger Joel Thomas Arnold, 53, of Orlando. Two other occupants, Vicki Lee Cruz of Sorrento and Rhonda Lyn Silvia of Orlando, were injured in the collision. Wildlife officials said Cruz' wife, Leslie Ann, who also was on the airboat, was not injured.

The survivors were taken to Orlando Regional Medical Center.

"Our hearts go out to the families affected," FWC spokesman Gary Morse said. "It's imperative that boaters take precautions and know what's going on around them."

He said the airboat occupants weren't wearing life jackets.

Morse did not know the clearance between the surface of the water and the bridge. "It's obviously not a great deal," he said.

The 2.1-mile bridge, part of the region's system of toll roads, bisects the 16,000-acre lake, which boasts one of the state's densest populations of alligators and healthy flocks of birds, including osprey and bald eagles that often perch on light posts.

But the bridge is low and flat with only a slight crest in the middle.

Investigators were looking into whether alcohol played a role in the accident, the second fatal boating incident on Lake Jesup this year and the third in less than two years.

The airboat was headed east in the water when it hit the bridge's underside.

A dive team from Seminole County and other rescuers used a sonar device to search for Arnold's body in the murky waters of the shallow lake. They recovered the body earlier today.

A section of S.R. 417 was closed after the crash.

Including Sunday's victims, Florida boating accidents have claimed 64 lives this year, two more than last year, according to FWC statistics compiled by Lt. Seth Wagner.

Nine boating deaths have occurred in Central Florida this year with two in Orange County; one in Lake; four in Seminole, including another victim on Lake Jesup; and two in Volusia. None of those victims was wearing life jackets.

Others died even while wearing flotation devices. In Brevard County in August, an 18-foot vessel carrying six people capsized in the Indian River during a thunderstorm. Four of the passengers were rescued but two people in life jackets were trapped underneath, including a 4-year-old boy. Both died. or 407-650-6361

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