The search for Justin Walker and Brian McCluney, two firefighters who went missing on Friday, August 16 while on a day-long fishing trip out of Port Canaveral, Florida, will be suspended at sundown on Thursday, August 22.
The two friends planned to spend a leisurely day fishing in the McCluney family’s 24-foot center console Robalo boat. Authorities were notified around 6 p.m. when the two men failed to return home Friday evening.
McCluney is a Jacksonville, Florida firefighter and Walker is a master technician for the Fairfax County, Virginia Fire and Rescue Department. The Jacksonville Fire Department’s firefighters have volunteered their time to assist with the search while the Fairfax County Fire Department is assisting the families and helping as they can from afar.
Here’s what you need to know about the efforts to find Justin Walker and Brian McCluney.
1. Justin Walker & Brian McCluney Were Last Seen at the Port Canaveral Boat Ramp
Walker and McCluney were last spotted on surveillance video Friday morning around 11 a.m. The two were at the 300 Christopher Columbus Boat Ramp launching their vessel. Their plan was to fish near Reef 8A, a popular angling spot 30 miles offshore.
Since their disappearance, the U.S. Coast Guard has covered an estimated 105,000 square miles of ocean from Central Florida to South Carolina and has traveled up to 80 miles offshore. Searches have continued throughout the night.
U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Luke Clayton confirmed with Florida Today there has been no radio communication or GPS “pings” emanating from the boat or personal emergency devices.
The Jacksonville Fire Department tweeted at 8 a.m. on August 19 that they’d deployed 36 boats with 135 volunteers to monitor coast from Jacksonville to Brunswick, Georgia while the Coast Guard extended their search up to Charleston, Carolina. Three days after Walker and McCluney disappeared, a plea was put out to the general public asking boaters to assist first responders with the search.
2. McCluney’s Wife Identified a Recovered Tackle Bag
On the afternoon of August 19, Stephanie McCluney positively identified a tackle bag found floating in the water as belonging to her husband.
According to Coast Guard officials, the bag was picked up by a Good Samaritan aiding with the search efforts, approximately 50 miles off the coast of St. Augustine.
“I wholeheartedly believe this is a bread crumb they through (sic) overboard to say ‘we are here, come find us,” Stephanie McCluney wrote on Facebook. A relative told WFTV the bag contained McCluney’s personal belongings.
3. The Fishing Boat Had a History of Mechanical Problems
Brian McCluney’s brother Kevin revealed the boat belonged to their late father who had just passed away. Brian McCluney wanted to take the boat for one last spin before putting it up for sale. He also wanted to “work out the kinks,” Kevin McCluney explained.
Stephanie McCluney shared with CBS News that the boat had experienced previous mechanical problems. “We know these things happen. It’s not the first time the Coast Guard’s been called or Sea Tow has been called,” she said in a phone interview. They’ve been out there before to tow us back in,” she said in a phone interview.
“Mechanical issue on the boat. I’m guessing, mechanical, electrical. They’re just sitting there floating with no systems working right now, waiting to be picked up. Drifting,” she told CBS4
4. The Coast Guard Reported Two False Alarms
Hopes were raised on Sunday, August 18, when the Coast Guard reported that a civilian aircraft had spotted a boat matching the description of the missing firefighters’ vessel, approximately 50 miles east of St. Augustine. A Coast Guard plane was diverted to investigate and located an unrelated cooler and lifejackets.
The Coast Guard also scrutinzed a debris field seen off the coast of Jacksonville. It was later determined that it was also not connected to McCluney and Walker.
5. Brian McCluney Has U.S. Navy Survival Training
Stephanie McCluney told ABC News her husband learned how to survive at sea while serving in the U.S. Navy. McCluney said she understands that the search is like looking for “a needle in a haystack,” but added that “these two men are probably the two most resourceful men.”
Kevin McCluney said that he will continue to look for any signs of his brother or Justin Walker.
A fund has been set up by the Jacksonville Fire Department to help cover costs for volunteers and to assist the families.