August 22, 2019
Same as you surely are, the Florida Sportsman staff is heartbroken to learn the U.S Coast Guard will be suspending, at sundown today, its active search and rescue operations for the two anglers presumed lost at sea off Florida since last Friday, August 16.
Our staff, scrambling toward a press deadline and a memorial for one of our own (Bob Mitchell, who passed after a fall on Aug 10.) had been tuning in regularly and hopefully this week for updates on the SAR operations.
Brian McCluney, 38, a member of Jacksonville Fire and Rescue, and Justin Walker, 33, a firefighter out of Fairfax, VA (originally from Vero Beach), were last seen launching a white 24-foot Robalo at 11 a.m. at the Christopher Columbus boat ramp at Port Canaveral. Their destination, reportedly, was the popular 8A reef approximately 30 miles offshore. They had planned to return at 6 p.m. They had announced their float plan, and by all accounts, were capable boaters.
A tackle bag identified by a family member as belonging to Brian was found floating 50 miles off St. Augustine on Monday. In addition to the Coast Guard cutters, aircraft, and various federal and state resources, hundreds of volunteers in boats up and down the U.S. east coast have been combing some 105,000 square miles, from Central Florida to New England. (As most eastern seaboard anglers are likely aware: Offshore, Gulf Stream currents rush up the coastline at 4-5 mph, and prevailing winds have been strong out of the south and southwest.)
Private search operations will no doubt continue, and to that end there's a fundraiser announced for Friday, August 23 at Sonny's BBQ in Viera, FL, 150 Sheriff Drive. Also, the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters continues its “Help Find Them!” campaign, at jfrd.com
We're holding onto hope for Brian and Justin, and we urge all mariners to keep a close watch and stay tuned to VHF 16 for updates at sea.