VALDOSTA -- What began as an afternoon of fishing Saturday for four friends has become a nightmare for their families.
Matthew Hutchinson, 24, and his girlfriend, Amanda Player, 20, both of Valdosta, and Jeremiah Giffen, 24, Hahira, and Dominique Barrows, 39, Dixie, left the Keaton Beach Marina, Fla., around 11 a.m. in Hutchinson's 20-foot Seacraft boat.
The four people were due in between 5-5:30 p.m., but night fell with no sign of the boat. In addition to their boat, another boat with a couple from Valdosta was missing. According to a person at the marina, the boat with the Valdosta couple was pulled in around 3 a.m., but there was still no sight or word from the Hutchinson boat.
Dell Player, Amanda's father, received a call at his Valdosta home that his daughter and her friends were missing at sea early Sunday morning. Since then, he said he's had maybe six hours of sleep.
"I got the call at 2:30 a.m. Sunday morning saying the boat was overdue," Player said. "We didn't leave right away. My wife and I arrived at Keaton around 9:30 a.m."
When the Players arrived at Keaton, the Coast Guard was searching for the missing boat but was hampered by rough seas. The families of all four missing people have little information and wait for any word. The Coast Guard briefed the families at about 3 p.m. Monday, Player said.
"They told us they were searching thousands and thousands of square miles, searching at night with infrared beams, but by day boats are out," Player said.
Player said the rough waters have not made the daytime searches easy, but hopefully, that was changing.
"Today, it seemed the waters are calming, but they have been really rough," he said. "The rough water has been hindering their ability to see."
Player said he and other family members are staying close to the marina, watching and waiting for word about their loved ones. Although their wait is long and anxious, Player said the prayers and kindness of the Valdosta community help sustain them.
"We just want everybody to keep praying and to keep us in their thoughts," he said.
To contact Tanya B. O'Berry, please call 244-3400, ext. 239.
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