UPDATE: Brother ‘can’t rule out’ fisherman missing on Lake O still alive

The brother of the fisherman missing in Lake Okeechobee said his decade of service in the U.S. Marines included time as an instructor in water survival.

“I know what a human is capable of,” Anthony Llanos said Monday evening. That’s why he believes Nik Kayler still could be alive, five days after being thrown into the lake’s cold waters.

“I can’t rule it out,” Llanos said. “The chances are high that he’s not alive. And I can accept it. I can’t accept not finding him.”

As the search for Kayler, a 38-year-old husband and father, continued Monday on the vastness of the big lake, Bill Kisiah, his fishing partner, changed the photo on his Facebook page to that of a boater kneeling before a cross in front of his bow. On the side of his boat: “Prayers for Nik.”

Kayler was lost Thursday as the two participated in the first day of the Fishing League Worldwide’s 3-day Costa Series tournament. Organizers canceled the rest of the bass-fishing event on Friday as state authorities, fellow boaters and volunteers from as far away as Maine scoured the lake. At least 32 boats were on the water Sunday alone.

Another competitor in the tournament set up a money-raising webpage for Kayler’s family on Sunday, with a goal of $15,000. In one day, it collected more than $20,000, and it was at more than $27,000 as of 5 p.m. Monday.

Kisiah, 51, from the New Orleans suburb of Slidell, La., checked out Friday evening from Lakeside Medical Center in Belle Glade. Efforts to contact Kisiah or relatives have been unsuccessful.

After the men launched Thursday morning from Okeechobee, “preliminary information indicates that the vessel encountered rough waters and struck a wave and Mr. Kayler was ejected from the vessel,” the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said in a brief statement Monday afternoon. A separate FWC report said that “efforts made by Mr. Kisiah were unsuccessful, as he was unable to recover his passenger due to suspected engine damage and conditions.”

Weather officials have said winds could have made the lake choppy Thursday, especially toward its south end.

Llanos, who was out on the lake during Monday’s search, said authorities have told him Kayler was in the back of the boat when “it kind of speared the wave. It killed the motor.”

He said he’s been told Kisiah tried and failed to restart the engine, even as a strong wind pushed the boat farther from Kayler. He said he was told subsequent waves eventually swamped the boat and Kisiah ended up in the lake and eventually crawled back in, got to its bow and used the trolling motor to try to get to shore.

League organizers had called for help after the two failed to check in Thursday evening at the C. Scott Driver Park in Okeechobee. Kisiah and his 21-foot Ranger Z521 came ashore at about 11 p.m. Thursday near the Pahokee Marina, where he spotted Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies and told them what had happened.

“When he saw our deputy, he collapsed in front of him,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Teri Barbera said Monday. She said Kisiah told the deputies the boat had drifted for hours.

Llanos, 30, who lives in New Smyrna Beach, said Kayler — actually his half-brother — had a decorated military career that included time as a door gunner on a Black Hawk helicopter in Iraq. He’d been married more than a decade and has a 7-year old daughter. Llanos said Kayler and a friend owned a car dealership and that he also had a handyman business.

And he fished.

“In the winter, before the (tournament) season starts, he fishes a lot, gets his game up,” Llanos said. He also said Kayler spends lots of time at the gym and was in great shape prior to the tournament.

But Llanos said his Marine training also tells him the odds are against his brother.

He said he’s been told Kisiah saw Kayler waving from the water, but no one knows if the man was injured. He said his brother had to try to make land against a strong wind and current. And he said he’s been told the water was about 55 degrees, and a normal person could begin losing judgment within two to three hours. But he said Kayler had a life jacket, thermal clothing and extra layers.

Even then, he said, his brother, if alive, would have been stranded on land without either food or water for the last several days, some of which recorded bitter overnight lows.

But he said Kayler already survived one ordeal in the water a few years back. He said Kayler was boating through a marsh on a Central Florida lake when he struck an underwater stump, which tore out the motor and sank the boat. He said Kayler swam a mile to shore and got to an island, where he was rescued.

“He could be still alive. He’s a survivalist. He could do this,” Llanos said, “But as every hour passes, his probability is creeping farther away.”

Not lost on Llanos, he said, is that he must force himself to judge his brother’s chances clinically while realizing he’s talking about his brother.

“You wouldn’t believe it,” he said. But, he said, “I won’t stop until I find him.”

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