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Two remain missing in Gulf of Mexico waters near St. Petersburg

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A college student and a chartered boat mate who was trying to save the other are still missing a day after they jumped into the waters of a channel leading out into the Gulf of Mexico near St. Petersburg, officials confirmed Wednesday.

Jie Luo, 21, from China, and Andrew Dillman, 27, went missing Tuesday after Luo jumped into the Gulf of Mexico waters off western Florida with four others, Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer First Class Michael De Nyse told

The boat, a 71-foot yacht named “Jaguar,” was anchored at a point near the channel called Shell Key.

It was chartered for a four-hour cruise by 15 college students — 14 from Colorado State University and one from Stony Brook University, according to Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who gave a news conference Wednesday afternoon in Pass-a-Grille, near the channel where the Jaguar passed through on the cruise.

The students chartered the Jaguar online from Orlando for $2,000 via Florida Yacht Charters, which set out at approximately 4 p.m. The conditions were reported to be choppy, windy and rough, Gualtieri said.

Captain Todd Davis took the students for a slow ride lasting about 45 minutes to Pass-a-Grille and decided to anchor instead of continuing into the Gulf of Mexico.  There was some discussion between the students and Davis about going snorkeling in the water after the vessel was anchored, the sheriff said.

Davis claimed he told them not to jump in the water.  But several of the students jumped into the fast-flowing waters anyway several times.

The third time the students jumped into the water, only four made it back to the vessel.  Luo was having trouble swimming back to the vessel and that’s when Dillman, jumped in attempting to assist Luo

The students later stated to officials they were not told of the dangerous conditions, Sheriff Gualtieri said.

Neither Luo nor Dillman were wearing a personal flotation device and the current began to carry both subjects out toward the Gulf of Mexico. Davis attempted to toss Dillman a personal flotation device, but the wind caught it and blew it in the opposite direction.

Davis quickly pulled in the anchor and tried to search for both swimmers near the last place he saw them but was unable to locate them, then contacted the Coast Guard.

At 6:10 p.m. Tuesday, Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg watchstanders received a report from the captain of the 71-foot yacht, Jaguar, stating two males were missing from the boat.

Next of kin for Dillman and Luo have been notified and the search continues for both subjects. Alcohol was on board the vessel and there were several empty bottles.

The sheriff said “we are still in a search mode and we will continue in that mode. That is the right thing to do.”

But more than 24 hours later crews from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, Station St. Petersburg and marine units from the sheriff’s office had not turned up the two. Dozens of searches have been carried out so far, with more than 1,0000 square miles covered.

“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Andrew and Jie during this difficult time,” said Lt. Jason Holstead, the command duty officer at Sector St. Petersburg.

“We continue work closely with our partners to search for Andrew and Jie, all of us have them and their family in our thoughts and prayers.”

Les Neuhaus is an all-platform journalist, with specialties in print reporting and writing. In addition to Florida Politics, he freelances as a general-assignment and breaking-news reporter for most of the major national daily newspapers, along with a host of digital media, and a human rights group. A former foreign correspondent across Africa and Asia, including the Middle East, Les covered a multitude of high-profile events in chronically-unstable nations. He’s a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, in which he served as a Security Policeman, and graduated from the University of Tennessee with a B.A. in political science. He is a proud father to his daughter and enjoys spending time with his family.

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