As waves crashed against the submerged boat, the fishermen slipped off one by one into the sea.

The first to let go was Willis Bell, 70. His stepson, Fernandas Jones, 51, a Navy veteran, a Palm Beach County Sheriff's deputy, and father, was the next. Jones' son, Jayden, who was only 9, was the last to be lost — despite a desperate attempt by the only survivor, Jones' cousin Robert Stewart, 45, to keep the boy alive.

The three died after a Sunday fishing trip off Stuart turned tragic when Jones' 24-foot center console Sea Ray boat took on water and sank amid rough waves estimated to have been between four and six feet high.

Nearly 24 hours later, Stewart washed ashore on Monday morning, exhausted, signaling for help to a helicopter overhead, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

Officials said the foursome, who all lived in Port St. Lucie, planned a fishing trip Sunday, leaving from Sandsprit Park in Stuart at about 8 a.m. Someone on board made a phone call sometime after taking off and before anchoring in 80 feet of water at about 9 a.m. but for reasons that were not yet clear, did not report they were in distress, Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said.

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