Search for firefighters missing at sea reaches as far north as Cape Hatteras

Surveillance photo from U.S. Coast Guard in search for two missing boaters in Florida, one of them a Fairfax firefighter.

The U.S. Coast Guard, partner agencies and volunteers have searched as far north as Cape Hatteras for two firefighters missing at sea since Friday, but the scope of the effort is becoming “untenable,” officials said Wednesday evening.

Firefighters Brian McCluney (left) of Jacksonville, Florida and Justin Walker of Fairfax County. [Photo courtesy Jacksonville Fire and Rescue]

“We continue to be in a race against the clock,” U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Todd Weimers said of efforts to find Fairfax County, Virginia firefighter Justin Walker and his friend, Jacksonville, Florida firefighter Brian McCluney.

The massive five-day search by sea and air has covered 90,286 square miles from the Carolinas to Florida but has turned up only one viable clue — a gear pack belonging to McCluney found two days ago near Jacksonville, Florida.

Walker and McCluney left Friday from Port Canaveral for a short fishing trip and didn’t return.

Two days ago, a gear pack belonging to McCluney was found east of Jacksonville. Since then, there have been no signs of the two men.

A life ring found Wednesday turned out not to belong to either of the missing men, and a call about people on a life raft near the Georgia coast was an unrelated rescue call, the Coast Guard said.

Search efforts on Wednesday were focusing on Georgia and the Carolinas, with a Coast Guard search plane traveling as far north as Cape Hatteras, Weimers said.

“We have a plan through the night, I think with everybody, the family, the Fairfax fire family and here in Jacksonville, we’re struggling to find something that would spark an ability to contract the search,” said Weimers said. But the reality is searchers have gone two days without finding anything new, he said.

“We’re rapidly reaching a size of a search grid that becomes untenable,” Weimers said. “It’s after our first light search tomorrow that we’ll have our next set of conversations about what the future may look like.”

Boats are leaving this evening out of Savannah and Charleston to continue the search through the night, The Coast Guard said.

Beachgoers on Hatteras Island and south are still asked to look out for debris that may be associated with the missing boaters. Call the Coast Guard at 252-986-2175 if you find anything.

Related story:

  1. Families of missing boaters put out plea from Florida to N.C.

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