Massive search effort for missing boaters shifts northward off coast of Jacksonville

Video: Search for missing boaters continues off Florida coast

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — The massive search effort for two missing boaters who launched from Port Canaveral Friday morning is stretching northward from the water off of Jacksonville up off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina.

Officials said the boaters, Justin Walker and Brian McCluney, both of whom are firefighters, were last seen departing the 300 Christopher Columbus boat ramp Friday in a 24-foot center console boat heading toward the 8A reef.

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

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"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 off shore in Georgia and in South Carolina to assist in the search effort.

The agency said Monday afternoon that⁩ a volunteer assisting in the search for the missing boaters found a tackle bag belonging to McCluney about 50 miles off the coast of St. Augustine.

Relatives said they alerted the Coast Guard after the men didn't return home as expected Friday evening. They held a prayer vigil for the men Tuesday evening.

"This is still absolutely a rescue mission. We're talking about a decorated combat vet here. We're talking about a firefighter paramedic. These guys have the skills. He was raised on the water his entire life. These guys have the skills to survive for a long time," Jacksonville fire Chief Keith Powers said during a Monday afternoon news conference.
In an update Tuesday afternoon, Powers said the search remains a rescue mission.

The Coast Guard, Navy, Brevard County Sheriff's Office, Florida Wildlife Commission and dozens of volunteers have all been searching for the pair.

Walker's wife Natasha boarded a private plane at the Titusville airport to help comb the Florida coastline by air Tuesday as the search continues for her husband.​

"They know that we want them to keep fighting," she said before boarding the plane.

The Coast Guard tweeted Tuesday that crews have searched an estimated 69,000 miles since Friday.

"Days are long and nights are longer," said Stephanie McCluney, the wife of Brian McCluney.

The Coast Guard tweeted over the weekend that they'd received leads about debris found near St. Augustine and a boat near Jacksonville, but that both were false alarms.

"There's been no debris field found anywhere, which they're confident that's a great thing," Stephanie said.

She said they hope the boat is stuck in the water somewhere and just hasn't been found yet.

Kevin McCluney, the brother of Brian McCluney, said if anyone is resourceful enough to survive, it would be these two men.

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

Stephanie said her husband is survival-trained from his time spent 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. Stephanie remains optimistic the men will be found soon. "We've gotta get one eye to see. All it takes is one eye, but it takes a multitude out there."

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.

Check back and watch Channel 9 Eyewitness News for live updates on this developing story.