A boater who went missing near St. Martins Keys in Citrus County Wednesday was rescued after treading water for nearly 20 hours.

  • Boater William Durden rescued Thursday morning
  • Durden fell off boat, rescued after 20 hours at sea
  • Credits Navy training for saving life

William Durden, 61, was spotted at 10:29 a.m. Thursday. The former Navy pilot was rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard about 15 nautical miles southeast of Aripeka.

Durden fell overboard while fishing alone in the Homosasssa River. He was not wearing a life jacket.

"I went through different phases, first couple hours, I’ll find some way to wave down and get on somebody’s boat, then sundown comes and oh well, I’m gonna have to plan for nighttime now,” he said. "I was just praying that no big shark would come out and decide to have me for dinner."

Durden was treading water more than 20 hours.

"The sun came up and I go, 'it’s a new day, made it through night, the hairiest part of the whole thing, I’m gonna get picked up today. I am gonna get picked up today,'" he said.

The Coast Guard found the fisherman after a two hour search.

"Looked a little bit closer and it had two arms and it was waving at me, my adrenaline spiked, yelled 'mark!' and dropped the flare and turned around and went to go find him again,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob Latour, USCG Drop Master.

Durden was physically fine for the most part, but glad to finally be rescued.

"Four or 5 o’clock in the morning, it started getting a little bit chilly, mostly the water temperature wasn’t too bad but I started shaking, hypothermic,” he said. "I felt fish hitting my legs and stuff."

"It’s very rare that we find somebody, a single person in the water, especially after 20 hours with no life jacket,” Latour said, “and it is very exciting that we found somebody."

Durden’s wife told the Coast Guard he had left their summer residence on the Homosassa River at 10:30 a.m. aboard a 22-foot boat and had not returned home.

At 1:10 a.m. Thursday, crew members from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission located the 22-foot boat in the mangroves near St. Martins Keys.

Durden, who is from Reno, Nevada, said his Navy training likely saved his life before the Coast Guard was able to get to him.