Islamorada snorkel tour captain and client save drifting teen

A teen snorkeler who was briefly lost earlier this month off Islamorada did not use a dive flag.
A teen snorkeler who was briefly lost earlier this month off Islamorada did not use a dive flag.

Don DeLeon likes to come down and fish in mahi tournaments on Capt. Brian Cone's Contagious charter boat. He's been doing it for years.

In the process, he's gotten pretty good at scanning the water out in the distance looking for birds, floating weed lines and debris where dolphin are known to be.

DeLeon fished the Mad Dog Mandich Inshore & Offshore Classic on Oct. 9 and 10 with Cone. They came in third place.

The next day, DeLeon, his wife and daughter chartered a private snorkeling boat out of Robbie's Marina on Lower Matecumbe Key.

While snorkeling with Capt. Samantha Zeher at Cheeca Rocks, a reef one mile off Upper Matecumbe Key, a man pulled his boat up to Zeher's KeyZ Charters (www.KeyZcharters.com) vessel frantically telling her that his son is missing in the water.

The DeLeons heard the man and immediately got back into Zeher's vessel and offered to help look for the boy.

"A life is worth a lot more than an afternoon snorkeling," DeLeon said.

Apparently the boy, a teenager, DeLeon said, was diving for lobster. His father did not anchor his boat and lost track of his son. Panicked, he set off in hopes of tracking down other boaters to help look for his son.

DeLeon and Zeher said the man, who was visiting the Keys, did not have enough understanding of the water and should not have been captaining a lobster hunt. Not only didn't he realize he would drift away from his son, he did not place a dive flag in the water, nor did he have a global positioning satellite device to mark the coordinates of the area where his son entered the water.

"You don't take the ocean for granted," DeLeon said. "It's beautiful, but it can take your life if you don't follow the rules."

DeLeon used the same optical talents he uses to spot dorado with Cone to look for the man's son.

"I'm trained at looking for debris, and that's when I saw the snorkel," DeLeon said.

Although hectic, the whole ordeal lasted a little more than 10 minutes. That said, the son was found in the opposite direction to where the father searched.

"He had no idea about the tide. He had no idea about the current," DeLeon said.

Zeher said the son didn't know about his father's anguish while he was in the water. In fact, he didn't realize he was lost.

"When we pulled up to him, he was face down in the water, and we feared he might be unresponsive," Zeher said. "He didn't even look up. When we shouted, he popped is head up."

Along with always having a dive flag and a GPS, Zeher recommends trying to stay calm on the water, even when things seemingly go wrong.

"If you freak out, you lose sight, especially if you're not paying attention," she said.