PEARLINGTON, MS (WLOX) - A Hancock County man fishing off the dock at the Pearlington Boat Launch was feared drowned after he disappeared for five and a half hours Tuesday. For family members, it was a long, tense day. But one with a happy ending.
A massive search began after 71-year-old Walter Acker and two friends decided to begin their day fishing. Acker's fishing buddy's went home to get more fishing tackle.
"They left just for a moment and when they came back he was gone," said Jacqueline Bradley, Walter Acker's younger sister.
That's when a massive search began. Divers from the Department of Marine Resources, St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Department, and the Bayside Park Volunteer Fire Department all spent the morning combing the waters near Pearlington, desperately looking for the elderly man. Search and rescue dogs were used to sniff out the area, but came up empty.
Authorities feared he had some how fallen in the water and drowned. You see, his keys were found in the door of his truck and fresh fish and his fishing pole were both found in the back of the pick-up.
"There were a lot of things that were questionable," said Matt Karl with the Hancock County Sheriff's Department. "If he went in the water, why wasn't his straw hat floating?"
Acker's sisters said there were other reasons to believe something awful may have happened.
"He done had a couple of strokes," Bradley said.
Family and friends stood vigil along the shore praying Acker would turn up. Five and a half hours later, those prayers were answered. Turns out, Acker had taken a boat ride with another fisherman, Kenny Welsh.
"He was just sitting at the dock," Welsh said. "I saw him and said, 'You want to go?' And he said, 'Sure.' Nobody else was here and we went fishing had a good time. Didn't realize we were going to have this homecoming when we got here."
Walter Acker was surprised to see a sea of people when he pulled up on Welsh's boat.
"All I can tell you is the man had me out there fishing. I can't tell you where he went. It was way out there," Acker said.
Family and friends were obviously elated. Hancock County Sheriff's Deputy Matt Karl summed it up best.
"Anybody would take this ending," Karl said. "Thank God it ended this way. You normally don't get too many like that. Thank the man upstairs."