The family of Jason Heath is now offering a $25,000 reward for the return of Jason, his Panga boat or information leading to their return. Jason was last seen taking his 25-foot blue Panga center console boat, with a white Suzuki 150 hp motor, out of Sugarloaf Key at around 2 p.m. on Monday, November 22.
An extensive search was conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard, Florida Fish and Wildlife, Monroe County Sheriff and community volunteers. The Coast Guard’s active search was suspended after six days. But his family is forging on. Per the website findjasonheath.org, which his sister, Allison, created, “we are continuing the search for our son, brother, and uncle.”
“The decision to suspend the search for any missing person is among the hardest the Coast Guard has to make,” said Captain Adam Chamie, commander of the Coast Guard’s Sector Key West. “There are a number of factors that influence that decision and the preceding search, including sea state, currents, temperature, time since distress, and what the person is wearing, among others. We input these factors into our Search And Rescue Optimal Planning System in our Command Center, which helps us determine how best to deploy our small boats, cutters, and helicopters to find the missing person. We work tirelessly during every SAR operation to maximize our probability of success to bring the missing person home.”
Coast Guard crews searched approximately 15,380 square miles, roughly 1 1/2 the size of Maryland.
According to a Coast Guard press release, Heath’s father, Jim, reported to the Coast Guard on Tuesday, Nov. 22, at approximately 3:30 p.m. that his son was late coming back from his boat trip. Jim last heard from Jason by phone around noon on that day.
A Monroe County Sheriff officer conducted a welfare check at Jason’s home. The family’s 25-foot blue center console was missing, but Jason’s wallet, vehicle and his three dogs were found at the residence.
“Our sincere condolences go out to the family and friends of Jason Heath,” said Chamie. “The decision to suspend a search is never easy.”
On that day, 35-year-old Jason was wearing a navy blue short sleeve shirt, gray shorts, prescription sunglasses and Keen sandals. He is 5-foot-seven-inches tall. After receiving his cell phone data, the Coast Guard and the family deduced from his phone’s last ping from Cudjoe Key Tower at 3:15 p.m. that he was probably on his way home through Bow Channel to Tarpon Creek cut.
However, locals say that there was a squall in the area at about that same time. Allison feels that her brother’s disappearance is related to this squall, though other possibilities do go through her mind.
“The water is shallow,” she pointed out. “We would have found him and the boat pretty quickly at this point. I hate to go speculate on all the possibilities — whether someone stole the boat?”
She said that Jason was in a positive state of mind, looking forward to making the 21-hour road trip to New Jersey to visit the family, and his new niece Stella, for Thanksgiving that week. His car was half-packed for that journey. The family feels that he was just taking his Panga out for a short jaunt before finishing preparing for the road trip.
“My brother loves giving gifts,” Allison said. “He was trying to figure out what to give Stella for Christmas. Now we’ll never know. He asked, ‘What does she like?’ He hasn’t been around many babies before. ‘What do you get a six-month-old?’”
Allison said that when she first discovered her brother was missing, she was in a state of shock. ”The best way to describe it is, you feel like you’ve had a concussion. You’re disoriented, and you don’t know what’s going on. Now I created the website and keep it updated.”
Allison is savvy with computers since she is a technical director for a children’s hospital in Philadelphia, near where she lives in Hammonton, New Jersey. Her brother, Jason, lived full-time in Sugarloaf and worked remotely for a tech company.
The Heath family is trying to do their best to cope during this time.
“I’ve been reading a lot about ambiguous loss,” Allison said. “I’m definitely keeping in mind he’s probably gone, but maybe he’s somewhere disoriented. How much time goes by before you resolve things in your brain? It’s been really hard for my parents. They don’t want to do this stuff — that’s why I’ve talked to reporters.”
Adam Linhardt, director of media relations for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, declined to discuss the possibility of criminal activity connected to Jason’s disappearance. “I can’t comment on the investigation,” Linhardt said. “Detectives are still looking into it. It wouldn’t be appropriate to make any further statement.”
The Heath family would appreciate any information that can help them fill in the timeline of Jason’s Nov. 22 boat trip or find any physical evidence that would help bring them closure. Please contact them with any leads at 609-380-8147 or [email protected] Or message his sister, Allison Heath, directly on Facebook.