BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. - The U.S. Coast Guard and Jacksonville Fire Rescue said they suspended the search Thursday night for two missing firefighters who were last seen on a boat near Port Canaveral Friday morning.
“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.”
Officials said the boaters, Justin Walker and Brian McCluney, were last seen departing the 300 Christopher Columbus boat ramp Friday in a 24-foot center console boat heading toward the 8A reef.
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,” Mark Vlaun, commander with the U.S. Coast Guard Sector in Jacksonville said.
Authorities said that, while the official search was suspended after Thursday night, the Coast Guard will keep an eye out during its patrols, and if a new clue is found, the search will resume.
"Everyone will know that we still have Brian and Justin somewhere out there," Vlaun said.
Check back and watch Channel 9 Eyewitness News for live updates on this developing story.
The Coast Guard confirmed Wednesday that the last cellphone ping they received from the missing boat was Friday afternoon about 12 miles off shore.
Vlaun said searchers are "in a race against time" as the search area grows exponentially every day that no new clues are found.
The last clue was a tackle bag belonging to one of the boaters found 50 miles off the coast of St. Augustine on Monday afternoon.
Vlaun said the search is becoming "spectacularly large and complex."
Powers said more than 100 people in 40 boats were out surveying 5,000 square miles of ocean in search of the men Wednesday.
Family members and first responders gathered in Jacksonville for a private vigil for the boaters on Tuesday.
Crews also searched areas they have already covered.
McCluney works for the Jacksonville department while Walker is a master technician with the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department in Virginia, just outside the nation's capital.
As the days passed, the Coast Guard said it considered the possibility of survival, which is usually five days.
"I have to be honest, that, as we move forward, we're moving into an even more complex environment and even larger environment. And it's a struggle for all of us," Vlaun said.
The families of the missing boaters are asking people to continue to share photos of the men and the boat. They're also asking volunteers to comb nearby beaches and search for anything that could have washed up on shore from the boat, such as extra life preservers.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville Command Center at 904-714-7558.
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