AUSTIN (KXAN) — It was Cinco de Mayo, and newlyweds Rose Ann and Manuel Salas planned to take their new boat out on Lake Travis for the first time, before heading to a family party in Elgin later that day.
The couple got married just three months earlier after a courtship Rose Ann described as a “whirlwind” romance where Manuel “swept me off my feet.”
During the time they were dating and engaged, Rose Ann, 48 at the time, said Manuel, 54, would often look at and talk about boats. After seeing and hearing him do this for years, she encouraged him to go through with getting his own.
“‘You always take care of everybody else,'” she recalls telling him. “‘If you want the boat, you should get the boat. You should do something for you once in a while.'”
Rose Ann said that trip out to Lake Travis in 2018 was on a gorgeous spring day with lots of boats and people on the water.
After launching from Mansfield Dam Park, the couple circled around once before attempting to drop an anchor attached to a 75-foot line into the water below The Oasis on Lake Travis restaurant.
“We couldn’t anchor,” Rose Ann said. “We didn’t know at the time that we were in anywhere between 150 to 175-foot (deep) water.”
That’s where the problems started.
Rose Ann said Manuel jumped into the water to go to the bathroom without realizing the boat had started to move.
“By the time I turn around, I kind of look and see that he’s in trouble,” she said. “We were just getting pulled away from each other and he just ran out of gas.”
Rose Ann said she desperately tried to get the lifejackets out of a compartment in the boat but struggled to get it open.
She said she doesn’t know if her husband got too cold, suffered a heart attack, cramped up or simply ran out of energy.
“The last vision I have — my husband,” she said. “I don’t wish that on anyone.”
The Travis County Sheriff’s Office incident report shows Rose Ann called 911 at 3:31 p.m. that day.
Rose Ann said an officer on land was able to see her within minutes, but that it took lake patrol 30 minutes to reach her on the water.
“To have such poor coverage, it really bothered me,” she said. “I was really upset. I was in shock. I was more in shock than anything else.”
The Travis County Sheriff’s Office said getting to boaters when calls come in for help can be a time-consuming process.
The lake is 65 miles long and on busy weekends and holidays, the boats can only go so fast.
“When a boat moves across the water, it doesn’t get to people as fast as a car does on roads. This is just the nature of how boats travel on water,” said TCSO Senior Public Information Officer Kristen Dark. “Unfortunately, many times when people call 911 from a boat, they don’t know where they are.”
Lake Travis’ missing
Manuel’s disappearance in 2018 is the most recent case where the victim was never recovered, but certainly not the first.
Ten people have been reported as drowning victims who were never seen again, according to TCSO. The first case dates back to 1976 when three people disappeared off a yacht.
Sixty-one people have died on the water since 2010, the year the TCSO began keeping detailed records of Lake Travis deaths.
Of those 61 people, 59 were recovered.
“It’s rare for us not to find a missing swimmer in Lake Travis,” Dark said. “We make it a point to look until we have exhausted every single thing we can possibly do.”
In Manuel’s case, TCSO said he disappeared in roughly 140 feet of water.
The case is still open, and the area where Manuel was last seen is now marked by a TCSO buoy.
Dark said whenever dive teams from outside the area come to Lake Travis for training, deputies direct them to dive at the buoy.
“We always send them there to dive in that area and see if maybe they can find him,” she said.
Rose Ann said she remains frustrated with the lack of public awareness around the number of deaths on the lake, and safety issues.
While the Lower Colorado River Authority does run public safety campaigns, she believes they need to be bigger and bolder.
“We had no idea — he had no idea that we were in a dangerous area,” she said. “Loved ones are down, they’re not recovered, I’m not the only one, and it just makes me sick to my stomach that nothing is being done.”
“The Wake: Secrets of Lake Travis” premieres Monday, May 29th on KXAN.com. You can watch it on KXAN at 4:30pm and The CW Austin at 7:00am and 9:30pm.