Hope dims for 2 men missing in Suwannee River

Dive team members Deputy Clint Dicks, left, and Cpl. Don Meyer prepare equipment Tuesday morning to aid in the search for the two men who were lost trying to rescue a child in the Suwannee River. (Submitted photo)

Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 9:54 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 2:30 p.m.

Al Melendez is well-familiar with the Suwannee River. As a guide for the Adventure Outpost in High Springs, he has paddled its twists and turns many times.

Now, Melendez, 38, and his intended son-in-law, Haemant Nathooram, 19, are missing on the Suwannee and are the subjects of an intensive search since they tried on Monday to help Melendez's son when he had a mishap on the river.

"He's always helping people. He helps animals. He always gives," Melendez's wife, Christina, said Wednesday afternoon. "People just love him. He's just that kind of person."

Gilchrist County Sheriff's Lt. Jeff Manning said Wednesday afternoon that the men had not been found despite an intensive search by several agencies.

Manning added that the likelihood of finding the men alive has diminished.

"There is always hope but due to the circumstances and the way the water is and the temperature, it's turned into more of a search at this point than a rescue," Manning said. "The level of the river is above normal and the current is fast."

The search has been under way since about 8 p.m. Monday when the Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office got a call about a possible drowning at the Log Landing Wildlife Management Area.

Christina Melendez said several family members went to the Log Landing area to play with a remote control boat — both Melendez's son Taylor, 8, and Nathooram are remote control enthusiasts.

"They went to play with the boat and get out of the house for a while. My son, when the boat got stuck, went to the edge to try to get it unstuck. He fell over," Christina Melendez said. "The closest person was Haemant. He can't swim but he was trying to grab (Taylor) and fell in. "My husband and everybody jumped in. They made a line of people helping. They said my husband started floating on his back. He got his shirt off. He was trying to save Haemant."

Taylor was safely brought to shore but Melendez and Nathooram did not make it back.

Manning said various agencies continued to search Wednesday morning, including divers from Columbia County Sheriff's Office, boat and search squad from the Dixie County Sheriff's Office and aircraft from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Christina Melendez is a Gilchrist County native, while her husband moved to the region many years ago from New York City.

"He works at the Adventure Outpost. He did tours on the river," Christina said. "People are trying to get boats together to keep looking."

Nathooram's mother, Savidree, said he was born in Guyana and moved to New York with the family when he was 7. Several members of the family, including Savidree and Nathooram's father, Ravil, are in Gilchrist County while the search is under way.

Savidree said Nathooram planned to attend college and enjoyed working out, riding bikes and playing with remote control airplanes and boats.

"He's lovely, caring. A good person. He always looked after me. I love him with my heart and soul," Savidree said Wednesday. "He came to Florida and said, mom, I want to move there. I said, OK baby, go. I was so happy for my son because he said everybody loves him."

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