Search for missing first responders suspended after 7 days
Officials said they have reached a point they no longer can search with any degree of success now
By Scott Butler
The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The top figures leading the all-out search for the two firefighters lost at sea made the extremely difficult decision to suspend the active efforts at sundown Thursday.
Coast Guard Capt. Mark Vlaun and interim Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department Chief Keith Powers said they have reached a point they no longer can search with any degree of success now in Day 7.
Vlaun said in his 25-year career he has never seen such "an all hands-on operation."
"It is the hardest decision, talking about search suspensions, any Coast Guard leader makes," he said. "It's unquestionable."
Powers said they "poured every reasonable asset to this area, the size of Colorado, to find these two firefighters" whom he has regularly referred two as brothers.
The men, friends Brian McCluney of Jacksonville and Justin Walker of Fairfax County, Va., have been missing since heading out Friday for a day on the water fishing in Cape Canaveral. McCluney is 37 and Walker 33.
"It is unimaginable, and obviously they are heartbroken," Powers said of the families.
"I can't say I feel any different right now, he said, starting to break down.
Vlaun said search and rescue planners met with the families who walked them through every step they've taken. He also reiterated that the Coast Guard never stops operating and are ready 24/7 for any new information or signs of evidence of the pair or their 24-foot-long Robolo center console boat with black top.
Both men along with the Fairfax County fire chief thanked all the agencies and so many volunteers involved, including the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Customs and Border Protection, Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, port commissions and the outpouring of public support.
Vlaun pointed to the civilian's "miraculous find" of McClune's fishing tackle bag that allowed them hope and an idea where to focus their efforts. He said unfortunately It's been the only item they were able 100 percent confirm it was linked to the men.
Powers said current efforts Thursday have at least 15 boats out of Savannah, Ga., scouring north and south of Charleston, S.C., where technology has led them.
Jacksonville Association of Fire Figthers President Randy Wyse said donations to the search efforts and family have exceeded $150,000 helping with fuel costs, hotel rooms for families and further support. Jacksonville FireFighter Charities set up a site to accept donations, accessible at jfrd.com.
©2019 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.)