2 missing boaters believed dead in central Florida

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OVIEDO, Fla. - State wildlife officials said two boaters who went missing on Lake Jesup in Seminole County are likely dead.

Jason Cobb, of Osteen, and Charles Jackson, of Deltona, were reported missing early Saturday morning after the couple failed to return from a fishing trip on the lake.

Lt. Jeff Hudson of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said Monday that the search for the men had turned into a recovery mission.

Fish and Wildlife officials said the search is far from over, but the direction of the efforts changed Tuesday: Instead of searching on land, the search is now only focused on the water.

“We're still continuing to look for the two individuals,” said Hudson. “However, what we're not doing is, we're not doing assets on the ground as far as ATVs. We're still continuing to use aircraft from Seminole County Sheriff's Department.”

On Monday, a boot was found in the water near where one of the men's shoes was found over the weekend, but it's unclear whether the boot belongs to Jackson or Cobb, Channel 9’s Steve Barrett reported.

“One of the shoes that was located a family member has said was one of the missing person's shoe,” said Hudson. “A boot was recovered last night. We're still trying to verify if that was the other individual's footwear.”

Authorities said it appeared that the men had been thrown from the 15-foot boat, which was found undamaged with paddles and life jackets inside.

"Perhaps they hit a wave. I think there was a storm that came in," said Hudson. "The type of boat, depending on how they were sitting in there, could have become unstable at that point."

Hudson said investigators "have nothing to suggest they survived this incident."

Wildlife officials said the shallow lake is home to a large alligator population, though temperatures have been too cold for the reptiles to be very active.

Officials said alligators are ectothermic, meaning they rely on external sources for heat. They stop feeding when the water temperature drops below 70 and they become dormant when it hits 55 degrees, authorities said.

Lake Jesup is one of the largest lakes in Central Florida and is one of several connected to the St. Johns River. The lake covers 16,000 acres, and its average depth is 6 feet.