Picayune man missing in boating accident

Published 5:34 pm Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Picayune man has been missing since Saturday when apparently an estimated three-foot wave struck and overturned the boat he and three passengers were riding in.

The missing man is identified as Lee McWilliams, 43, of Picayune. The boat had three other passengers, two females and another male. One of the female passengers was reported to be McWilliams’ fiancee.

Apparently McWilliams and three other Picayune residents, identified as Lisa A. McWilliams, 44; Clara D. Clark, 39, and Felix Huderson, 42, set out to fish that day but their boat overturned near the Bay St. Louis bridge, said Harrison County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Landi Phillips.

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The boat overturned at about 3:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon and the department was called out at about 4 p.m., arriving 12 minutes later, said Claude Pittman, Marine Patrol Assistant Chief with Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. Three of the four boat passengers were rescued, but McWilliams is still missing.

McWilliams was last seen holding onto an ice chest after the boat overturned. A male and female passenger held on to the overturned boat until they were rescued and McWilliams’ fiancee swam to a nearby barge and held on until she was rescued, Pittman said.

Currently Marine Patrol has three vessels in the area searching for McWilliams body.

“We will continue to search until we find him,” Pittman said.

Pittman said the high winds Saturday afternoon created about three-foot waves, and the 16-foot boat began to take on water as the waves came over the stern. McWilliams went to the bail the water out when a wave overturned the boat.

Winds at that time were reported to have been at about 20 knots, Pittman said.

Both female passengers were wearing life jackets but Huderson and McWilliams were not, Pittman said. Huderson was described as being a strong swimmer with a background as a life guard.

Sunday Marine Patrol’s Dive Team was assisted by Gulfport Fire Department’s dive team from 8:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. The Coast Guard also was on scene with boats and a helicopter. The helicopter assisted Saturday evening and Sunday morning.

Pittman said it is possible McWilliams survived since the water temperatures were between 60 to 63 degrees when the three passengers were rescued. However, Pittman did say the search is now a recovery mission, which means they are looking for McWilliams’ body.

The search is hampered by rising and falling tides creating some currents along with changing north and south winds creating choppy waters.

“Our divers had a pretty good current they were fighting while in the water,” Pittman said.