Firefighters missing off Florida coast: Active search to be suspended at sundown

The Coast Guard is searching for two boaters who didn't return from a fishing trip Friday evening off the coast of Port Canaveral, Florida.

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Brian McCluney and Justin Walker were last seen leaving the 300 Christopher Columbus boat ramp Friday in a 24-foot center console boat heading toward 8A Reef.

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McCluney is a firefighter with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department and Wilcox is a master technician with the Fairfax County, Virginia, Fire and Rescue Department.

Update 9 p.m. EDT Aug. 22: The U.S. Coast Guard has suspended their search after searching 146,368 square miles in search of the missing boaters.

Update 12:55 p.m. EDT Aug. 22: Officials with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department and the U.S. Coast Guard said Thursday that they have made the decision to suspend the active search for McCluney and Walker at sundown Thursday.

Authorities said the search will continue, but it will be scaled down.

"They (the families) are heartbroken, and I can't say I feel any different right now," Jacksonville Fire Rescue Chief Keith Powers said. "It is an extremely tough decision because we have a brother out there that we haven't been able to find."

The search stretched north from Jacksonville up the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. Officials said the search area is the size of Colorado.

"Our thoughts and prayers remain with them," said Mark Vlaun, commander with the U.S. Coast Guard Sector in Jacksonville.

Update 10:05 a.m. EDT Aug. 22: Two organizations are offering rewards to help find McCluney and Walker.

Michael Reimer, the CEO of International Marine, said Wednesday that the company would offer a reward of up to $10,000 for anyone who finds the missing men.

Officials with 1-800-BOARDUP are also offering a $10,000 reward for any boater or pilot who finds the missing firefighters, WJAX-TV reported.

The search continued Thursday for McCluney and Walker, who were last seen Friday. Officials with the U.S. Coast Guard said authorities had searched more than 90,000 square miles off the Florida coast by Thursday evening.

Update 2:20 p.m. EDT Aug. 21: The search for two firefighters last seen Friday continued up the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina on Wednesday.

"We're going to continue with everything we can throw at this until we realize we can't be successful," U.S. Coast Guard Comm. Mark Vlaun said.

Officials said they need volunteers with boats capable of traveling 60 miles offshore in Georgia and in South Carolina to assist in the search effort.

Officials said 200 people in 75 boats and 11 aircraft spent Tuesday surveying 12,600 square miles of ocean in search of the men.

Authorities said Wednesday that they didn't find any sign of the missing boaters on Tuesday or overnight. Officials were searching several debris areas.

Update 7:56 a.m. EDT Aug. 21: The search continues Wednesday for Brian McCluney and Justin Walker.

Family, friends and loved ones gathered at the Jacksonville Fire Fighter Hall for a prayer vigil on Tuesday evening.

Although ActionNewsJax reporter Courtney Cole wasn't allowed inside the vigil out of respect and privacy for the families during this difficult time, she said the parking lot was full of cars that showed up to support the firefighters' families.

While Tuesday marked Day 5 of the search, McCluney’s wife, Stephanie, expressed her confidence in God’s power to bring her husband and Walker home.

"It's not manpower, it's God power — and he's doing amazing things,” she said.

On Tuesday alone, Jacksonville Fire and Rescue said 200 people, 75 boats and 11 aircrafts covered nearly 13,000 square miles, determined to find the firefighters.

Walker’s firefighter brothers from Fairfax County have also now stepped in to help.

Update 12:35 p.m. EDT Aug. 20: Officials with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department said they will cover about 12,600 miles Tuesday in their search for two missing firefighters.

On Tuesday, 10 aircraft and several boats were surveying the area with the help of law enforcement, fire and rescue officials and civilians, WJAX-TV reported. Crews focused on searching the area where a tackle bag belonging to one of the missing men was found Monday.

Update 10:50 a.m. EDT Aug. 20: The wife of one of the boaters missing since Friday morning took her search efforts into the air Tuesday, WFTV reported.

Natasha Walker caught a private flight from the Titusville airport to help comb the Florida coastline as the search continues for her husband, Justin Walker, and his friend, Brian McCluney.

"They know that we want them to keep fighting," Natasha Walker told WFTV before boarding the plane.

The U.S. Coast Guard said Monday afternoon that⁩ a volunteer found a tackle bag belonging to Brian McCluney about 50 miles off the coast of St. Augustine.

"This is still absolutely a rescue mission," Jacksonville fire Chief Keith Powers said Monday at a news conference. "We're talking about a decorated combat vet here. We're talking about a firefighter paramedic. These guys have the skills ... to survive for a long time."

Kevin McCluney, the brother of Brian McCluney, told WFTV that if any people were resourceful enough to survive, it would be these two men.

"Between the two of them, I know they've got it locked down," Kevin McCluney said. "It's just a matter of time."

Brian McCluney's wife, Stephanie McCluney, told WFTV he underwent survival training during his time in the U.S. Navy and that Justin Walker is one of the most resourceful men she knows.

"If I were ever stranded anywhere, those were the two men I'd want to be stuck with," she said.

Coast Guard officials continued to search for the McCluney and Walker on Tuesday.

Update 6:44 a.m. EDT Aug. 20: The search for two missing firefighters will continue Tuesday morning, authorities said.

The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department is calling on anyone who would like to help with the search and has the following items:

  • A boat that can work in the range of 30-60 miles
  • Binoculars
  • A SAT phone (which is short for a satellite telephone. It's a type of phone that connects to other phones by radio, orbiting through satellites.)

Update 3:10 p.m. EDT Aug. 19: McCluney's wife said in a post on Facebook that her husband's tackle bag was found 50 miles off the shore of St. Augustine, WJAX-TV reported.

The search for McCluney and his friend, Wilcox, continued Monday.

Update 1:25 p.m. EDT Aug. 19: Officials with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department said over 135 people assisted Monday with the search for McCluney and Walker. There were 36 boats searching from Brunswick, Georgia, to St. Augustine, Florida, on Monday, officials said.


Searching for the missing boaters will continue until dark, JFRD officials said.

Agency officials stressed Monday that the search was still a rescue mission. The missing men were raised on the water, according to JFRD.

"We're talking about a decorated combat vet here. We're talking about a firefighter paramedic. These guys have the skills," a JFRD official said Monday at a news conference. "These guys have the skills to survive for a long time."

Update 9:25 a.m. EDT Aug. 19: Authorities and volunteers continued to search Monday for McCluney and Walker.

Coast Guard officials said Monday that crews have searched an estimated 24,000 miles since Friday. Authorities said they continued to search Monday from Port Canaveral up to Jacksonville.

Officials with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department urged people in the area to contact authorities "if you see something ... any debris, anything." McCluney is a Jacksonville firefighter and Wilcox is a master technician with the Fairfax County, Virginia, Fire and Rescue Department.

Update 3:10 p.m. EDT Aug. 18: Multiple agencies have joined the search, On Sunday afternoon, the Coast Guard said crews are investigating reports of a debris field 50 miles east of St. Augustine, Florida, WJAX reported.

However, they have confirmed it's not related to the missing boaters.

Earlier Sunday, Stephanie Young McCluney, the wife of one of the missing men, thanked the efforts of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department in a Facebook post. According to a tweet from the agency, 50 firefighters were assisting the Coast Guard with the search.

The Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters has also set up a link for those wanting to help with search efforts.

"The donations will support the search efforts and ultimately the families of the firefighters," according to the Jacksonville Firefighter Charities donation page. "Thank you so much for your support and prayers!"

Original report: In a Facebook post Saturday, McCluney's wife said the Coast Guard has suspended the air search until Sunday morning but will continue to search by boat and radar overnight.

According to Stephanie McCluney's post, the search area will move north as the Coast Guard continues to survey the coast off Volusia County throughout the night.

According to the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters, McCluney is a Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department firefighter from Station 31 near Oak Hill Park.

The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department said in a Facebook post that Walker is a master technician at the Virginia fire department near Washington, D.C.

The Coast Guard had deployed a search plane and several boats to look for the overdue boaters. The Navy and Brevard County Sheriff's Office are assisting with the search.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville Command Center at 904-714-7558.


The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.

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