FBI, Coast Guard investigate newlywed’s sea disappearance

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. (AP) — When the Coast Guard found Lewis Bennett on a life raft between Florida and the Bahamas, he told rescuers that about three hours earlier he had been asleep inside the cabin of the catamaran he shared with his new bride, Isabella Hellmann, and was jolted awake when the craft hit something.

He said he went up top and found Hellmann gone. He told the guardsmen he looked for his 41-year-old wife but their 37-foot catamaran, Surf Into Summer, was sinking. When he couldn’t find her, he told them, he activated his emergency radio signal and abandoned ship. When guardsmen found the catamaran, it was submerged and capsized. As they searched for Hellmann, the catamaran was lost and is believed to have sunk.

After seven days, the Coast Guard gave up its extensive air and sea search for Hellmann – but not its investigation. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Kelley and FBI Special Agent Michael Leverock say their agencies are jointly investigating Hellmann’s May 12 disappearance, with the FBI conducting a search of the couple’s Delray Beach condominium on June 16. Its front door, showing signs of being pried open, was still sealed by FBI crime scene tape two weeks later. Neither would comment further, but Hellmann’s family and friends believe there was foul play. Bennett, a 38-year-old mining engineer, denies any foul play.

Bennett and Hellmann, a real estate agent, had married in February and took the weeklong trip as a belated honeymoon, leaving their infant daughter, Emelia, with Hellmann’s family. They had left Havana and were hours from returning to Florida when Hellmann disappeared.

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According to a Boca Raton police report, Bennett asked for an officer to be present when he picked up Emelia from his sister-in-law’s home 16 days after the disappearance. Elizabeth Rodriguez, Hellmann’s sister, repeatedly accused Bennett of killing Hellman and screamed at him, Officer J.P. Cohen wrote in a report. Investigator Dennis Munchel of the U.S. Marshals Service told Cohen that Bennett is being investigated for his wife’s disappearance, according to the report.

About that time, Bennett, who holds dual British and Australian citizenship, told WPTV that he was headed to Cuba to do his own search of hospitals in hopes she might have been rescued. No working phone number could be found for Bennett nor could he be found on Facebook or Twitter. The Rodriguez family declined comment when contacted by The Associated Press except to say they believe Bennett is in England with his daughter.

Bennett recently told The Daily Mail, a British newspaper, that he understands why he is being investigated but, “I have got nothing to hide.”

“I am not holding out much hope of seeing her, so I have to come to terms with that. This is absolutely devastating for me,” he told the newspaper. “She is my soulmate. I thought we were going to be together forever. We were planning a great life together and now I am alone without her. I loved her very much.”