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Rescue workers search for missing boater on big river

Family members of a missing Calhoun County man are clinging to hope as a team of rescue workers search the Apalachicola River for him. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Ernest “Pee Wee” Prevatte, 48, and his son-in-law, Robert Bailey, Sr., 35, put in at the Blountstown Landing in a 14 foot aluminum boat Sunday afternoon, then headed just north of Blountstown to check on a houseboat. As they were returning, they noticed they were running out of gas and used a cellphone to contact family members. They hoped to have someone meet them at John Redd Landing, but the water was so high, a vehicle could not reach the landing. As the men were trying to check the gas tank, the boat begin to take on water and sink. “They didn’t have time to put on their life jackets,” said Prevatte’s nephew, Jesse Kaufman. The men grabbed their flotation devices and started drifting, but Prevatte apparently was not able to hold on in the swift, cold river. According to his nephew, he suffers from diabetes, asthma, and possibly heart problems. Bailey floated over six miles in the 53 degree water. At the boat landing in Bristol, a resident named Mr. Goff heard him screaming and told him to grab a tree branch. Bailey was unable to reach it, then drifted further to Trammell Bridge where he climbed out and managed to flag down a motorist just before 9 p.m. The search was then underway for Prevatte. The team includes members of Liberty County, Gulf County, Wewa, and Houston County, Alabama, search and rescue units. In addition, the FWC has five boats and a plane involved in the effort and the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office has deputies in boats and in their agency’s helicopter. FWC Ofc. Lane Bentley urged boaters to beware of the high river with the swift current. “Use extreme caution and wear a life jacket,” he stressed. “The current is running a lot faster and it’s a little more dangerous. And the cold temperatures don’t help.” Bailey’s wife, Venus, was waiting with him throughout the day Monday at a command post set up at the Liberty County boat landing, hoping for word about her missing father. As of press time at noon on Tuesday, there was no news of him being found. “He’s been on this river many times,” Kaufman said of his uncle. “Just one bad time is all it takes.” Mandy King told The County Record her Uncle Pee Wee is “a fun and outgoing guy.” She and other family members, including Pee Wee’s wife, Frances, are praying that a miracle will bring him home safe and sound. In a strange twist, a body was recovered during the search for Prevatte and turned out to be a missing Georgia man. For more, see the adjacent story.

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