Massive Search Underway for Firefighters Who Vanished During Boat Trip: 'We're Gonna Find Them'

Char Adams

Authorities have deployed nearly 40 boats with more than 100 volunteers and rescuers to find a pair of firefighters who disappeared off the Florida coast during a boating trip on Friday.

Brian McCluney, of the Jacksonville Fire Rescue Department, and Justin Walker, with Virginia’s Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, were last seen on Friday near Port Canaveral, where they launched a 24-foot fishing boat, according to ABC News and Coast Guard officials. On Monday, a volunteer found Brian’s fishing bag about 50 nautical miles from St. Augustine, authorities said.

“We’re gonna find these guys. We’ve finally started zeroing a little bit today,” Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department Chief Keith Powers said in an update on Monday. “We’re gonna find them. Absolutely, it’s a rescue mission.”

The search continued through the night and early on Tuesday, with helicopters deployed in the area, Coast Guard officials said in a pair of tweets. By then, search and rescue teams had covered about 46,800 square miles between Port Canaveral and Charleston, South Carolina.

Brian’s wife, Stephanie McCluney, told WTLV that the boat belonged to Brian’s father, who died a few weeks ago. The trip was meant to be “one big final hoorah for his dad,” Stephanie said. But she became worried around 5 p.m. when she hadn’t heard from Brian and saw that he hadn’t read her text messages.

“I still could see that my messages hadn’t even been delivered yet,” she added. “I tried to get the kids to bed really quickly and made the calls to my … mother-in-law and brother-in-law that maybe we should start doing something.”

The family contacted the Coast Guard around 8 p.m. that night and, by the next day, the massive search had begun, according to WTLV. Stephanie said she has faith that Brian will be found.

“We’re talking about a decorated combat veteran, we’re talking about a firefighter, paramedic,” Powers said of Brian and Walker, respectively. “These guys have the skills to survive a long time. He was raised on the water his entire life. We’re going to continue this effort until we find Brian.”

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Powers invited anyone with a large boat to help in the search. Walker’s wife, Natasha Walker, echoed the chief’s statement in a Facebook post.

“Anybody and everybody from the coast of Georgia to South Carolina please help us,” she wrote on Monday. “We need boats on the water. All the way out to the Gulf stream. Please we can get your vessel filled with fuel and supplies. Please please please.”

Stephanie has also shared search updates on her Facebook page, and yesterday shared a photo of Brian’s recovered bag.

“I wholeheartedly believe this is a bread crumb they through overboard to say ‘we are here, come find us,’ ” she wrote.

The Fairfax department released a hopeful statement on Facebook, writing that they remain optimistic that the pair will be found.

Photos and videos showed dozens of volunteers showing up to the area to help and many boaters preparing to set out on the water. Powers said the group will not stop looking until the firefighters are found.

“Firefighters have a unique bond. It’s a 24 on, 48 off schedule. We live together for a third of our life in those fire stations,” he said, according to WJXT. “We eat together, we laugh together [and] when something bad is going on, we cry together. When word got out, the entire department, we had numerous departments, they’re all offering service. It’s a unique bond and it’s shared throughout the country.”