Underwater statue knocked down by hurricane now stands again

It was knocked down during Hurricane Matthew

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When Hurricane Matthew hit, it caused some destruction and debris on the First Coast. For one local family, the storm knocked down a statue that meant the world to them.

Two years ago, Jack Leone and his wife got a phone call about their son, John Leone.

"Basically, the call said John was in an accident and he was rushed to UF Shands hospital," Jack Leone remembered. "A drunk driver hit him, basically."

His son died 11 days later.

Their friend, Joe Kistel, wanted to dedicate a new reef to John Leone. He teamed up with TISIRI, a group that creates and promotes artificial reefs, and a new reef was going to be created 12 miles off Ponte Vedra.

“We got this idea that it would be neat to place this statue down there,” Kistel recalled.

Jack Leone described the statue as “a concrete, 6-foot-5, 1,000 pound statue of Jesus.”

In the summer of 2015, Kistel, the Leone family and some others sank the statue and placed it in memory of John Leone.

"It was just incredible," Jack Leone recalled.

Kistel said the group always wondered if the statue would hold if a big storm swept through the area. They got their answer when Hurricane Matthew hit.

"Much to our surprise, he was not broken," Jack Leone said. "Hurricane Matthew had totally re-positioned the whole reef. There are 10,000 pounds of concrete structures that were moved around like pick-up sticks."

Though it was in one piece, the statue had been knocked over and moved about 20 feet away.

“It was upsetting to me he was looking down. He was face down," Jack Leone said. "I'm Catholic; religious. I told Joe, 'We've got to come back down and fix this.' And Joe was on it!"

So, this past weekend, the same team went to the reef with the goal of placing the statue upright and move it to a stable spot using a harness and other equipment.

"We named the mission: Resurrect Christ,” Kistel said.

The group managed to move him 40 feet and in position, Jack Leone said.

But that's only part of the amazing tale.

Jack Leone's daughter, Emily, was in a life-threatening car accident of her own a year and 10 days after John Leone died.

"We almost lost Emily," Kistel said.

“She had a 10 percent chance of survival. Broken back, It's crazy! ” her father noted.

But photos of Emily during her five-to-six week hospital stay showed her smiling. She is doing so well now that this past weekend, she was able to dive on the mission to restore the memorial statue for her brother. 

She remembers diving with her brother.

"I always feel John when I'm underwater, but especially at the site," she smiled some more.

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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