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    Death overcomes hope in search for man

    A Pinellas fisherman jumps from a boat. His body, and an explanation, have not been found.

    By LEANORA MINAI

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 7, 2000


    MADEIRA BEACH -- Two miniature lighthouses glow inside Tracy Gossner's house.

    "I keep them lit to bring the guys home," Gossner said Wednesday of the fishermen who work the Florida waters. "It didn't work for Dano."

    Fisherman Daniel "Dano" Donaldson, 44, is presumed dead. The Coast Guard says he jumped off a commercial vessel 75 miles off John's Pass on Monday. His body has not been recovered.

    Close friends are shocked. Some say Donaldson was sad, but he was happy Nov. 27 when he launched the 10-day trip on the Rising Sun with another fisherman.

    "When he got back, he was going up north to see his family," said Gossner. The Coast Guard received a mayday call at 10:47 a.m. Monday from the only other fisherman on board with Donaldson, said Lt. Stephen Ward, a Coast Guard spokesman.

    The fisherman, whom the Coast Guard refused to name, reported that Donaldson had jumped from the 36-foot boat.

    "There is no evidence ... of wrongdoing," Ward said.

    Other fishermen heard the radio call for help, including Gossner's husband, David Wolfe, who was 18 miles away on The Angler. Wolfe cut 5 miles of fishing line and headed out to help find Donaldson, his best friend. Donaldson lived with Wolfe, Gossner and their children when he wasn't on the water.

    "He was loved by so many people," said Gossner, 36, who met Donaldson through her husband.

    Donaldson was from Michigan, but he spent the past 20 years on Madeira Beach as a member of the fishing community.

    He found peace on the water.

    "It's nice out there," said friend and fisherman Johnny Rhodes. "You can get away from all the madness."

    Donaldson hauled grouper and snapper on the Lady Juanita, Lady Helen and Gray Snapper, to name a few. His paychecks averaged $1,000 to $1,500.

    He baited hooks and gutted fish. He was so good he called the exact weight of a 57-pound black grouper before weighing it, said 52-year-old Edward Ballo, who fished with Donaldson two or three times for 14 days a stint.

    Ballo does not want to believe Donaldson killed himself.

    "We don't know what happened," Ballo said.

    But the Coast Guard said the waist-high gunnel -- the wall around the deck -- was so high someone would have to climb it to get overboard.

    When he was not fishing, Donaldson was paying attention to Gossner's four children, whom he loved and treated as his own. He was godfather to 3-year-old David and took 11-year-old Jenna with him to see the voting booth when he picked Ralph Nader for president. The other day, someone turned off Gossner's lighthouses.

    "That doesn't mean the rest of them aren't coming home," Gossner said. "Leave my lighthouses on."

    - Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.

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