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A Body Is Found in Intracoastal Search For Matthew Otis, 20, Who’d Disappeared Off a Boat on Sunday

| July 30, 2018

The Sheriff's Office, assisted by Volusia County Sheriff's units, sent in divers into the Intracoastal this morning. (c FlaglerLive)

The Sheriff’s Office, assisted by Volusia County Sheriff’s units, sent in divers into the Intracoastal this morning. (© FlaglerLive)

Last Updated: Monday, 4:15 p.m.

Update, 4:15 p.m.–Searchers who had been scouring the Intracoastal Waterway since Sunday evening found a body at 3 p.m. today, an official said. The body is presumed to be that of Matthew Otis, who had been boating with friends Sunday evening when he disappeared off the boat.

“He was found, and he is in a better place now. Thank you guys for the kind words and prayers,” his sister, Akiko Otis, wrote on Facebook around 4 p.m.

Divers found him in the general area where the search had been conducted for the past 18 hours, just south of Gamble Rogers Recreation Area.

The Medical Examiner arrived at the scene, at 4 p.m. and was expected to claim the body, take it to St. Augustine and conduct an autopsy.

Earlier reports are below.

On Intracoastal, Rescue Turns to Recovery As Hopes of Finding Matthew Otis, 20, Fade

July 30, 2:11 p.m.–Rescue efforts in the search for Matthew Otis, 20, resumed this morning on the Intracoastal Waterway in Flagler Beach, but “there’s going to be a big decision that needs to be made” later this morning, Flagler County Fire Chief Don Petito said. That decision was reached by midday–to abandon the search and rescue and switch to recovery efforts.

At 11:30, several divers were in the water, and five law enforcement boats were clustered in the same search area, with a sixth further north and a seventh further south.

Fire Flight had gone back to its base at the county airport, to refuel and await further orders as the decision had yet to be made, nearing noon, whether to continue with the rescue effort as opposed to searching for a body.

Just after noon, all indications pointed to a recovery effort: Fire Flight would not return, and teams from the Flagler Beach and Flagler County fire departments were to be demobilized from the scene.

At the same time, FlaglerLive learned, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is leading the effort, had mobilized several diving teams from Titusville, expected to arrive in the area around 2 p.m. The team will have sonar and video equipment that will be able to detect anything of any size below the surface.

The wait dockside earlier today. (© FlaglerLive)

The wait dockside earlier today. (© FlaglerLive)

Meanwhile, teams on the water now, from the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, FWC and the county’s two fire departments, were being brought to shore around noon for debriefing and to regroup, in expectation of the FWC teams from Titusville. Only the Sheriff’s Office units were to remain to assist FWC.

Otis has been missing since 6:30 p.m. Sunday . He was with friends, boating and tubing in the Intracoastal. The search for him extended to near midnight Sunday before it was suspended for the rest of the night.

There was more clarity today as to Otis’s disappearance: according to one person familiar with the events that evening, Otis had not been tubing himself, nor had his five friends on the boat started tubing. Rather, they had led the boat to the area parallel to Ocean Palm Drive when several of them jumped in the water to moor the large tube. Otis had been at the front of the boat, and had no intention of tubing. But when his friends got back on the boat, he had disappeared. Speculation aside, it’s not know how or why. One of his friends immediately called 911.

According to an FWC incident report, the five friends had jumped off the boat to swim, leaving Otis on the boat. Returning to the boat, “Otis was not on board and could not be located,” the FWC report states.

FWC identified the individuals on board the vessel–a 1993, 19-foot Mako center console–as Caleb Hayes, 19, of St. Augustine, Isabella Tucci, 16, of Palm Coast, Hope Hosford, 20, of Flagler Beach, Colton York, 20, of Flagler Beach, and Brandon Swarts, 20, of Ormond Beach.

Authorities are not approaching the incident as anything other than an accident: The fwc-report released today rules out arrests or notification of the State Attorney’s Office.

Fire Flight had been in the air in early morning.


The scene on the water this morning. (c FlaglerLive))

“We’re out there again, we’ve got FireFlight in the air, we’ve got the jet skis out there and coordinating with all the other agencies that were out there last night,” Petito said earlier today, around 10 a.m. But even then he was indicating that the objective of the search was about to change. “So we’re still looking.” But hopes were dimming enough that Petito said, “Now at this point I think it’s going to be a recovery effort.”

Petito said searchers are constantly evaluating the situation, but a decision would be coming in late morning as to whether to continue with a search or to switch to recovery.

Around noon, though no one was saying it explicitly, that had become the case.

Outside 234 Ocean Palm Drive–the property whose homeowners opened their doors and dock to first responders, family and friends of Otis–the chain of official vehicles had been replaced today by civilian cars, including those of Otis’s parents and relatives. They sat and waited as boats continued their slow, searching passes in the Intracoastal.

Yesterday’s story is below.

Rescuers Search Into the Night for 20-Year-Old Who Disappeared on Intracoastal in Flagler Beach

July 29–Rescuers from several local and state agencies and the Coast Guard were searching into the night for a 20-year-old Palm Coast man who had been tubing with friends on the Intracoastal Waterway, and was lost sometime around 6:30 p.m.

matthew otis

Matthew Otis. (Facebook)

The victim’s friends were in a small boat motoring south on the Intrascoastal. It’s not yet exactly clear if the man was on a large tube behind the boat or in the boat itself–there are conflicting reports–but at some point the boat stopped and the man either jumped or had fallen off the tube. “He somehow jumped off the boat when it stopped and he couldn’t swim,”  Flagler County Fire Chief Don Petito said, based on what he was being told at the time.

He does not know how to swim, his friends told authorities, and he was not wearing a life vest.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is also a law enforcement agency, is investigating the boating incident, and was interviewing the man’s friends in early evening.

“We hope it doesn’t turn into something really sad, we’ve got a lot of people out there trying to find this young man,”  said Flagler Beach Police Chief Matt Doughney this evening.

Authorities had gathered (or staged) at the property at 234 Ocean Palm Drive in Flagler Beach. The property fronts on the Intracoastal. That’s where authorities had docked the small boat the friends were riding, with its large orange tube stashed at the back of the boat. Numerous Flagler Beach and Flagler County firefighter-paramedics, members of FWC and of Flagler Beach Police were in the back yard and on the dock at the property, and members of the man’s family and his friends were split between the front and back yards. Neighbors on both sides were on their docks, either observing or doing what they could to search with binoculars as two helicopters flew in patterns overhead–Flagler County Fire Flight and Volusia County’s Air One.

“We’re just all out, watching, looking where we can go from here,” one neighbor said shortly after sunset, binoculars around his neck, “that’s about all we can do.” Two boats were in the middle of the Intracoastal, one of them FWC’s, another belonging to private boaters with sophisticated fishing equipment that was being used to help in the search. The helicopters flew wide ovals around the Intracoastal, at various points slowly swooping down only a few yards above tree level then rising again. But light was fading fast.

“Losing light makes it more difficult, Flagler County Sheriff’s Chief Mark Strobridge said. The sheriff had a dive team at the scene, among other personnel. But he said even with night falling, Air One’s infrared equipment would be used to spot heat signatures on the ground, in the woods. If the man was in the water, however, there would be no signature.

The man was described as black, 140 pounds, wearing black shorts.

“They’re going to go for a little bit longer,” Petito said a little before 9 p.m. “I know they had a dive team, the helicopters with the infrared, and the Coast Guard was going to come out. But I know they’re going to call it in a little while” because of night conditions.

Responders from various local and state agencies were leading the search from the dock at 234 Ocean Palm Drive in Flagler Beach. The boat the 20-year-old victim was riding, with its large orange tube, was docked below the rescuers. (© FlaglerLive)

Responders from various local and state agencies were leading the search from the dock at 234 Ocean Palm Drive in Flagler Beach. The boat the 20-year-old victim was riding, with its large orange tube, was docked below the rescuers. (© FlaglerLive)

Private boaters joined the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers in the search. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Private boaters joined the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers in the search. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

fire flight

Flagler County Fire Flight in the fading light this evening. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)


(© FlaglerLive)


Family and friends waiting in the front yard on Ocean Palm Drive. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

intracoastal rescue

(© FlaglerLive)


On the Intracoastal around noon today. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

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31 Responses for “A Body Is Found in Intracoastal Search For Matthew Otis, 20, Who’d Disappeared Off a Boat on Sunday”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Sounds fishy….couldnt swim….jumped off boat….conflicting stories if he was on boat or tube…..?

  2. Carol L Pagliuca says:

    Sending prayers

  3. Concerned Citizen says:

    I hope they are able to find him and that he’s OK.

    Folks you should never go out in the water without proper safety equipment. I don’t care how good of a swimmer you might be. Whether it’s tubing boating or kayaking wear a life jacket. Also EPERBS (Emergency Personal Beacons) are reasonably had and can make a difference in locating you.

    Finally I have seen quite a few boats hauling tubes going way to fast in speed limit zones. I know you’re out there to have fun but do it safely. And be respectful of others!!

  4. Maria T says:

    Praying for you.

    Please update

  5. palmcoaster says:

    Hope they find that young man…as large alligators roam that area. A non swimmer should always wear a life jacket on board.

  6. Vinny says:

    I fish that area at night for over 30 years, have seen 7ft sharks in there and 12ft alligators. You should not get in that water…..EVER !!!!

  7. Anonymous says:

    if your not wearing a life jacket and your on a tube going 20+ mph and get swept off then you get stuck under water with little to no oxygen because your shocked and you breath out when you fly off because you get scared and or shocked. So then there’s a chance that you will drown. If your drown youll sit at the bottoms of the water system your in for 3 days till all the gas and air gets out of your body. Then finally you float to the surface. And why would he be on the boat with no life jacket and they know he can’t swim.

  8. Realist says:

    Hope he is found.

  9. mark101 says:

    This complete story doesn’t make any sense, he couldn’t swim, so he jumped off a boat, or was on a inner tube again he it was reported couldn’t swim. Its not a secret, people on the water need to wear life jackets even if you know how to swim as it just could save your life,. Sad story regardless on how you look at it, a person is lost. I hope for good news.

  10. TO ANONOMOUS says:

    to ANONOMOUS, don’t make this a story it isn’t. prayers for the family, and friends.

  11. Jolene R Dehart says:

    To begin with, unsafe boating not wearing a life best even tho can’t swim. Tubing without a best but can’t swim. No-one appears to know exactly what happened so seems like drinking or other intoxication or something strange going on. Very sad that someone possibly lost their life under these circumstances. And a heavy burden to bear for the others involved.

  12. Richard says:

    @ Anonymous – I agree, there will be more to this story for sure. Not sure whether he was on a tube (without a life jacket as required by law) or the boat? Whether he jumped or fell? Sounds like lots of drugs and alcohol involved if you ask me which is also against the law and the boat pilot and passengers are in for a rude awakening when they get arrested.

  13. Lazaruis says:

    Sounds very strange and reckless .
    Can’t swim and no lifevest .

  14. Anonymous says:

    He was not on the tube and nobody had been on it yet.

  15. Laurie says:

    Prayers to the family.

  16. Sam R says:

    This was a great young man. He worked at the families restaurant and always, no matter what when I stopped in he would greet me and say hello. There are not many people that go out of their way to say hello like he did. God bless you Matthew and your family

  17. Born and Raised Here says:

    This man didn’t know how to swim, and didn’t have a Life preserver on. Were there any Life preservers on the boat ? Who was in responsible for this boat and his crew ? Things are not adding up here.

  18. Flagler Local says:

    Everyone is so quick to judge and has something to say just for the sake of saying something. Nothing to see here folks, move along. It was a tragic accident where a lot of people are hurting and a young life was lost. Say your condolences and put your prayers up for the family and friends of this young man. We are not put on this earth to tear each other down, but to build each other up. Prayers to Matt’s Family and to all those involved. And to all the numerous agency’s who put in so much time and effort you did an amazing job and there are not enough Thank you’s that can be said for bringing this young man back home to his family and friends so that they are able to have some closure and a chance to grieve their loss. Thank you.

  19. Dieter McGuire says:

    My condolences, lots of speculation and opinions as predicted.

  20. Flagler Beach resident says:

    Prayers to his family. RIP Matthew.

  21. Richard says:

    Glad they recovered the body and VERY sad that he lost his life at such a young age. The loss of this young man’s life was totally preventable by using just a little common sense similar to any parent who has lost a young child who had drowned in a backyard pool. RIP Matthew.

  22. Agkistrodon says:

    Very sad this young man lost his life. Condolences to his family and friends. Hopefully before long there will be some clarity on exactly what took place. RIP

  23. Donna Heiss says:

    The captain of any vessel is responsible for the safety of guests and crew. Unfortunately, terrible boating accidents happen in the blink of an eye. A small 19ft. Vessel is easily rocked by a passing boats wake. The passing boat is responsible for damage due to the wake the vessel may have created. It is possible this was the case as speed boats break these rules all the time. As one of the captains of a large vessel, it is important to go down to idle speed when passing a smaller vessel. I do not know whether this may have happened.

    My deepest condolences to all who knew and loved him.

  24. Just a thought says:

    I would like to mention all the men and women who spent their Sunday night and Monday morning and afternoon to look for this young man. Divers in the water, fire rescue on jet skis, deputies in boats and helicopters in the air. These men and women arduously searched from above and below until they found the victim. Thank you all.

  25. Born and Raised Here says:

    Flagler Local I been boating for 50 years, and I always ask my crew 2 things. They are, do you know how to swim, and do you get sea sick. This isn’t judgemental, but a boatmans being responsible for his crew.

  26. Flagler Local says:

    Born and Raised here I understand what you are saying. But as you said you have been boating for 50 years. These were young adults who haven’t been boating for 50 years, and probably don’t have the life experience that some may have. I certainly remember being 20 and reckless. They have had to learn a hard hard lesson from this tragedy. To point blame only makes the situation for those grieving even harder. They are beating themselves up enough without it being pointed out. The young man was of age to put his own life vest on. He chose not to do so. He was an adult not an underaged juvenile. There were 6 life vests on the boat for all 6 passengers. They were not moving when he fell into the water. As I’m sure you are aware with your boating experience, By law you don’t have to have your life vest on at all times, they have to be readily available on the boat unless it is a child under 13 years of age. I completely agree he should have been in one but he wasn’t and now everyone has to live with that the rest of their lives. I was referring to the comments that there had to be drugs and alcohol involved and that people are going to be arrested. None of which is the case. It was a tragic accident that yes could have been easily advoided with the simple use of a life vest. It is a horrible horrible situation by all those involved.

  27. Just me says:

    My sincere condolences to his family, may he RIP.😢

  28. Born and Raised Here says:

    Flagler Local – Back in the day we were required to take a manitory USCG boaters safety course here in Florida, and post the sticker on our boat. It’s has nothing to be a young adult and reckless, It has everything to do with being responsible for you and your passengers or crew, Weather . you are operating a car, plane, or boat, which I was doing all three at that age, and still do now on a dailty basis.

  29. Sherri ware says:

    Out of all
    The comments I read most of you people think U know what your talking about save those comments because u were not there it’s easy for U to say what Matt should have done our family took a great loss and until u take the same loss keep your comments we need prayer that’s all since y’all got so much to say go donate if not your opinion doesn’t matter none of u naysayers was on that boat so u really don’t know what happened as soon as something happens to a black person it’s drugs and alcohol involved y’all missing the big picture that’s someone’s son brother uncle cousin let me get off here before I say something reckless love u Mattie Matt rest peacefully

  30. Helping hand says:

    There is a a go fund me page to help lift the burden from the family.

  31. Florida Native says:

    Born and Raised Here : although you make a valid point, you simply can’t make someone wear a safety vest. You can suggest it be worn and have plenty available for all passengers onboard. This vessel had every single safety and required items on board. This young man was like my son and to see all this nonsense speculation above is making this grieving process even harder.

    There are 5 of Matt’s bestest friends that were onboard with Matt that are deeply grieving this unimaginable tragic accident and it would be appreciated if the community could send prayers up, offer condolences to Matt’s Family and friends, hug their children a little tighter, say more I loves you’s, and cherish every moment to make memories with your own family and friends.

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