Solo angler falls off moving boat

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In what Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers say is one of the most bizarre boating accidents in years, a 41-year-old Georgia man is recovering in Bay Medical Center after falling overboard April 17 while cobia fishing off Panama City Beach.

The 24-foot Century boat, which was borrowed, ran out of gas and was found Sunday beached at Fort Morgan, Ala.

Wildlife conservation commission officer Jeff Gager said Michael Bursten of Roswell, Ga., was cobia fishing by himself Friday afternoon in rough seas off the western end of Panama City Beach in the Laguna Beach area when he attempted to climb down from the “ling tower.” A wave hit the boat, pitching Bursten overboard.

The trouble was he had left the boat in gear, albeit running slowly, but all he could do was watch the vessel slowly chug off to the west and out of sight.

Bursten fell overboard roughly 300 yards offshore. Several beachgoers heard him holler for help and swam out to him.

Bursten, who was not wearing a life jacket, was admitted to the hospital for water inhalation and remains hospitalized.

Gager said the U.S. Coast Guard and Bay County Sheriff’s Office deputies also responded to the accident, and everyone thought the vessel would be found later, somewhere down the beach or perhaps in Walton County.

Saturday passed, and there was still no word about the vessel. Chris Palomba, the boat's owner who lives in Lawrenceville, Ga., hired a private pilot to begin an aerial search, but then word came Sunday that the vessel was found beached in Alabama.

The distance between Panama City Beach and Fort Morgan is about 130 miles.

“Most boats, if you don’t hold the wheel steady, will turn to the right or left. There were 15-20 knot winds Friday and 6-foot seas and it’s just amazing the vessel ended up where it did,” Gager said.

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