Stephanie Young McCluney, wife of missing boater, Brian McCluney who went fishing with Justin Walker on Friday and have been missing since. Tim Shortt, FLORIDA TODAY
MELBOURNE, Fla. — Surrounded by volunteers, Stephanie McCluney, the wife of a firefighter lost at sea along with a friend since Friday, called for prayers and positivity on Sunday as they began a search of the shoreline at Jetty Park in Florida’s Port Canaveral.
Further out to sea, the U.S. Coast Guard — joined by over a dozen private boaters and several other agencies — continued to scour a 5,000-square nautical mile section of the Atlantic to find two off-duty firefighters missing after leaving Port Canaveral Friday.
By late Sunday, the agency was headed toward an area about 50 miles east of Jacksonville, Florida, after a civilian aircraft reported seeing a vessel matching the description of the missing boat. A Coast Guard search plane also spotted what appeared to be a cooler and life jackets.
Hours later, the Coast Guard reported that the items turned out to be other debris unrelated to the two firefighters. The maritime agency, however, said it would continue with the search.
“We’re saturating the area,” Petty Officer 1st Class Luke Clayton told FLORIDA TODAY earlier on Sunday. “They’re considered overdue. We’ve had no radio communication or GPS pings. We’re trying to find them so we can bring them back home.”
Family members called the Coast Guard about 6 p.m. Friday when Brian McCluney and Justin Walker, who went out on a fishing trip, failed to return from the nearby “8A” reef in a 24-foot Robalo, a center console boat. Sunday, McCluney’s wife thanked the volunteers, boaters and even pilots who have assisted with the search from the Carolinas to central Florida.
“I have an army that is just holding me and bathing me in prayer,” McCluney said while at Jetty Park. “We’re holding prayer vigils, we’re up all night,” she said as dozens of people fanned out searching for any clues that might have washed ashore.
The pair left from the boat ramp at 300 Christopher Columbus Drive near Jetty Park, Coast Guard officials reported. Search crews deployed along the area — including the Gulf Stream current that wraps around Florida. If caught in the current, the two men could be drifting north toward Jacksonville, authorities report.
Multiple vessels were being used, including a 45-foot Response boat, an HC-130 Hercules search plane, the 87-foot Coast Guard Cutter Confidence, and the Coast Guard Cutter Ridley, an 87-foot patrol boat.
Both men are described as firefighters — one with Jacksonville Fire Department and the other at an agency in Virginia. About 50 Jacksonville firefighters, including several using 11 boats for the search, were assisting with canvassing beaches along Florida’s east coast, the agency reported. In a social media post, McCluney’s wife asked for prayers and asked friends to assist in a search of the shorelines along the northern parts of Brevard County and other beaches toward Georgia.
“The Coast Guard will continue efforts by boat/radar throughout the night,” Stephanie McCluney wrote Saturday on Facebook.
“I’m desperately calling on all my prayer warriors. I am confident we serve a big God who holds these men in His hand and will guide them to us. As we approach the night I covet your prayers for peace and comfort,” wrote McCluney, who lives in Jacksonville.
There are also a number of smaller patrol boats, vessels from the Navy along with at least 15 private boaters assisting with the search. “We have a lot of different agencies assisting us as well,” Clayton said.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville Command Center at 904-714-7558.
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