Search for missing first responders off Fla. coast to continue by volunteers
Volunteers including numerous JFRD and Fairfax County first responders will continue looking for the men
By Teresa Stepzinski
The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The family of missing Jacksonville firefighter Brian McCluney remain hopeful he and his friend, Justin Walker, a Virginia firefighter, will be found although missing at sea nine days ago.
McCluney, 37, of Jacksonville and Walker, 33, of Fairfax County, Va., disappeared during a fishing trip that began Aug. 16 at Port Canaveral on McCluney's late father's 24-foot Robalo center console boat.
The U.S. Coast Guard suspended the massive, active air and water search for the missing men Friday after 105,000 square miles of ocean off Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas were scoured by local, state and federal agencies as well as hundreds of volunteers in boats and aircraft.
Coast Guard Capt. Mark Vlaun and interim Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department Chief Keith Powers said they reached a point where their crews and volunteers can no longer search an area that now extends up to New England with any degree of success.
Unless more evidence is found that points to where McCluney and Walker might have drifted, they can no longer commit those assets, Vlaun and Powers said.
However, some volunteers including numerous JFRD and Fairfax County first responders continue looking for the men.
McCluney's brother, Kevin McCluney, issued a statement from the family Friday on social media. He said they remain hopeful both men will be found, and are grateful to searchers.
"We still have hope," Kevin McCluney posted on his public Facebook page. "Nobody is giving up. However, my family's focus now must be on the immediate needs of Brian's wife and children."
He said they intend to hold a news conference at noon Monday and are finalizing the location to provide an update.
Brian McCluney is an engineer/paramedic at Jacksonville's Station 31, while Walker is a master technician at Station 5B in Franconia.
McCluney's brother said they are thankful for the efforts by the Coast Guard, their partner agencies and volunteers.
"My family and I have absolute trust, confidence and admiration of the US Coast Guard and partner agencies during the dedicated search for my brother and Justin," Kevin McCluney posted.
The family was briefed by the Coast Guard and JFRD before the official announcement Friday that the active search was suspended.
Kevin McCluney said their family has "zero doubt" the Coast Guard and its numerous partner agencies involved in the search as well as "every single one" of the thousands of heroic volunteers in aircraft and watercraft have left no stone unturned in the dedicated search.
Information provided by the Coast Guard to the family, he said, is "an absolutely exhaustive picture of the techniques and technologies used in the search, which is a Search and Rescue effort unprecedented in magnitude within recent history, or perhaps, ever."
"Hope remains, but it is important to remember that the Coast Guard are the masters of Search and Rescue. We do defer to their expertise in this area and advise any concerned parties to do the same," Kevin McCluney said.
Saying the search hasn't ended, he explained it is a reallocation of assets into the best search pattern.
"At this time, a concentrated local search would actually damage the chances of rescue, rather than help it," he said. "The Coast Guard stands ready to refocus a dedicated search in any area, on a moment's notice, if even the smallest scrap of hard data comes to light."
The family offered special thanks to JFRD.
"Your efforts are the best compliment to Brian I could ever imagine, and you honor him, my family, and yourselves by selfless dedication, sincere kindness, and absolute professionalism. I regret that I can never thank you all adequately, Kevin McCluney said.
Donations via nonprofit Jacksonville FireFighter cq Charities to help with fuel costs, hotel rooms for the families and further support total more than $150,000, according to Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters.
For more information or to donate jfrd.com.
A benefit was set for 3-6 p.m. Saturday at Jacksonville Fire Station 32, 8140 Lenox Ave. Proceeds from the sale of barbecue chicken dinners from Willards BBQ Junction will be used to defray the cost of the search efforts.
©2019 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.)