Body of missing boater found near Fort De Soto

Victim's wife almost jumped in after her husband

FORT DE SOTO, Fla. - A last second decision to stay in the boat instead of jumping in after her husband may have saved her life.  But for Michael Rhine, the notoriously dangerous currents pulled him underwater, and his body wouldn't be discovered for three days.

Rhine, 49, was returning from a day out on the Gulf of Mexico Sunday afternoon when his boat developed engine trouble, according to his relatives.  While working to clear a clogged valve, he fell into the water in Bunces Pass, a channel that runs north of Fort De Soto Park.

"He slipped off the back of the boat.  He never intended to go in the water," said Mark Dickie, Rhine's cousin.  Rhine was quickly towed away from the boat by currents, and his wife tried throwing him a ring buoy.  Unfortunately, the rope didn't reach.

"He called to have her get the longer rope.  She turned back to the front of the boat and got the rope," Dickie said.  "When she turned back he was gone."

For three agonizing days, Rhine's family joined with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office searching the area where Rhine was last seen.  

"To have to just stand there and wait for word is just brutal," Dickie said.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Coast Guard reported that a boater had discovered a body floating in five feet of water near an island at the mouth of Bunces Pass.

Sheriff's deputies recovered Rhine from the water shortly after 4:00 p.m.

"You just don't think something like this can happen to your family, so when it does, it's just heartbreaking," said Paul Rhine, the victim's brother.

Rhine said the family is taking solace in the fact that his brother died doing what he enjoyed most.

"He made a post on Facebook about how it doesn't get any better than this," Rhine said.

"He had a wonderful day with his wife, and hopefully someday she can get over this and remember that wonderful day." 

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