Sister of Fla. Mom Who Vanished at Sea Reveals Their Last Conversation: 'I'll See You Tomorrow'
Isabella Hellmann's sister Dayana Rodriguez told WPTV that she last spoke to her sister via satellite phone just hours before her disappearance
The sister of Florida mom Isabella Hellmann, who vanished at sea while on a boat trip with her husband last month, claims she spoke to her via satellite phone just hours before Hellmann disappeared, according to a new interview with local news outlet WPTV. Dayana Rodriguez told the station that on May 14 she received a call from her sister while she was on a catamaran with her husband of three months, Lewis Bennett, in the Atlantic Ocean.
“She called me at 8:25 p.m. and said, ‘Oh hi, we just connected the [satellite phone], it’s been really hard for us to connect it cause his [Bennett’s] friend told me it’s hard,’ ” Rodriguez said, according to WPTV.
“She said, ‘I’m in the middle of the ocean right now, we left Cuba.’ ”
Rodriguez continued, “She didn’t tell me what time, but she said, ‘We left Cuba and that’s it.’ She said, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’ ”
Rodriguez said that call was the last time she heard from Hellmann. At 3 a.m. on May 15, she said, she woke up to multiple missed calls and voicemails — one being from the satellite phone.
“That was Lewis, and [he] said, ‘This is an emergency, you need to call the Coast Guard. This is my coordinates,’ ” Rodriguez said. (She did not return PEOPLE’s call seeking comment.)
Hellmann, a 41-year-old real estate broker, was reported missing on May 15.
Bennett has said he was sleeping below deck when the couple’s vessel hit something about 70 miles from the Florida shore, southeast of Key West. He told investigators that when he emerged topside, there was no trace of his wife.
The last time he saw her, he said, she was wearing a life vest.
He was reportedly rescued later that Monday morning after leaving the sinking boat in a life raft.
An Ongoing Investigation?
The United States Coast Guard suspended its search for Hellmann after three days. However, last week, Coast Guard spokeswoman Lisa Novak told the Palm Beach Post that they and the FBI were “jointly” working on what she characterized as “a missing person investigation.”
The Coast Guard did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s requests for comment. The FBI confirmed their involvement in the investigation, but declined to provide further information.
They declined to specify to the Post if they were probing possible wrongdoing, as did the Coast Guard.
Last week, Bennett told WPTV that he was flying to Cuba to begin his own search for Hellmann. Rodriguez told the outlet that Bennett texted her from there, saying that he had checked in with the U.S. Embassy and had looked for his wife — to no avail — at local hospitals.
PEOPLE has been unable to reach Bennett for comment.
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Rodriguez said that upon his return, Bennett picked up the couple’s 9-month-old daughter from Hellmann’s family in the Boca Raton, Florida, area and later returned with a police officer to retrieve the baby’s belongings. (PEOPLE’s call to Boca Raton police was not immediately returned.)
A family friend told the Palm Beach Post that she urged Bennett not to return to his native Australia with the couple’s child. He has dual Australian and British citizenship, according to the Post.
“I begged him to please understand that the family lost Isabella and the only piece of Isabella left was [the baby], and he needs to understand that he just can’t leave and take [her],” Sarah Cortes said. “He said he understands, but he’s got his life in Australia.”
Sister: Communication Sparse During Boat Trip
Rodriguez told WPTV she had relatively little contact with her sister during the couple’s trip from the Caribbean island St. Maarten to Key West, with Hellmann saying her personal phone broke just four days into the planned two-week trip.
“They were supposed to go from St. Maarten to Puerto Rico, from Puerto Rico to Cuba, and from Cuba to Key West,” Rodriguez said.
According to the Post, officials in St. Maarten confirmed that a boat belonging to Bennett came in on April 8 and left the island on April 30.
Rodriguez said that she picked up her brother-in-law from the Coast Guard after Bennett was rescued, noting that she asked him, “Why didn’t you stop the boat and drop the anchor to do something about it?”
“I asked him, ‘Do you think she’s alive? Do you think she’s dead?’ ” Rodriguez recalled. “And he said, ‘I think she’s asleep.’ That was his answer.”
Hellmann’s family is searching for answers and urging anyone with information to reach out either though Facebook or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.