Body recovered after idle boat found on South Fork Catawba River

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FOX 46 Charlotte 

A 60-year old fisherman fell out of his boat and likely drowned on Lake Wylie, according to Gaston County officials.

The man's body was recovered near the bridge just after noon on Wednesday after his boat was found idle in the water. He has been identified as 60-year-old Willie Junior Perry.

Officials say a very observant person noticed that something didn't look right about the abandoned vessel, and called 911 around 9:30 a.m. There was a paper bag and cooler inside, and a fishing rod still in the water.

"It appears the person was fishing, trolling motor was down, fishing line was still in the water, boat was found right side up," said Bill Melton with Gaston County Emergency Management.

Emergency crews began searching Lake Wylie after the 911 call came in.  

"The side scan sonar units used by those watercrafts are state of the art. It helps us cover a lot of ground really quickly," Melton said. 

At first, crews weren't sure if anyone had even been inside the boat, but the 60-year-old man's body was recovered from the lake a short time after the search began. 

The incident is considered a boating accident. This is the third apparent drowning in Gaston County in a month. 

"This is a bit unusual but not unprecedented," said Melton. 

Statewide, the number of drownings is down significantly compared with last year. NC Wildlife tells FOX 46 there have been five drownings in North Carolina so far this year compared with 19 at this time last year.

The man who died Wednesday was not wearing his life jacket according to officials. Investigators say in North Carolina, it's not required by law to be worn if you're 13 and older, but each boat must have a life jacket on board for every passenger. Multiple life jackets were found on board the boat. 

FOX 46 asked wildlife officials about the high number of drownings recently in Gaston County. They say they're out on the water routinely doing boat inspections, making sure people have what's required by law to stay safe on the water.