Search for missing firefighters continues as groups ask anyone with boat to help

Corey Arwood

MELBOURNE, Fla. – The search continues for two missing firefighters who disappeared Friday after heading out for a day of fishing off Port Canaveral.

Several businesses and individuals are organizing efforts to add to the search as others combed beaches, hoping to find items from the boat.

Since Saturday, the U.S. Coast Guard has searched an estimated 24,000 square miles after Brian McCluney, a Jacksonville Fire Department firefighter, and Justin Walker, a Fairfax County, Virginia firefighter, were reported missing Friday.  

A Coast Guard search plane and two 87-foot patrol boats were searching Monday, along with planes from the Navy, Customs and Border Protection, Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, Brevard County Sheriff's Office and dozens of private citizens.

Crews are searching from about 80 miles offshore from Port Canaveral to north of Jacksonville, Dickinson said.

Search crews have responded to at least two false alarms since the search began.

Sunday evening, a civilian aircraft saw what appeared to be a vessel matching the description, along with lifejackets and a cooler floating nearby around 50 miles off the coast of Jacksonville. 

No boat was found and the items turned out to be unrelated debris. 

Coast Guard units also looked into a reported debris field about 50 miles east of St. Augustine. It also was determined to be unrelated to the boaters. 

'Bring them back home': Two firefighters went missing Friday on a fishing trip. Their search remains ongoing

Calls for help

Coast Guard officials have taken to social media asking for the public's help. Good Samaritans with boats and planes can call the Jacksonville Command Center at 904-714-7558 to coordinate and join the search. 

Jacksonville-based boat manufacturer DarkWater Customs LLC is asking anyone with a capable boat to help search for the two firefighters.

The company said it would cover fuel and provisions in a Facebook Post shared by Malabar Fire Rescue Sunday afternoon.

"We have family with JFRD (Jacksonville Fire Rescue Department) and they are asking anyone with a seaworthy vessel to aid in the search for those men who would gladly lay down their lives for you in a time where their lives depend on reciprocal compassion," the company said in the Facebook post.

Darkwater Customs asked anyone interested in helping the search effort to contact 904-438-9521 or 904-465-9040, or by donating to search funds.

Last seen

McCluney and Walker departed from a boat ramp on in Port Canaveral in Florida Friday morning.

Family members notified the Coast Guard when they didn't return Friday evening from their planned trip fishing trip to "8A" reef in a 24-foot Robalo center console boat.

U.S. Coast Guard planes and boats were immediately deployed and began sweeping the area near where the two men were last seen. 

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 shorelines.

Over the weekend, the Coast Guard made its ninth update about the search effort and said an overnight search was conducted from air and sea covering nearly 20,029 square miles of the Atlantic over 70 hours.

Stephanie Young McCluney, Brian McCluney's wife, shared to Facebook Sunday she was combing beaches for "anything the guys would have tossed over to signal" like hats, life vests or bean bag seat.

Weather conditions

Boating conditions Friday were “typically considered favorable,” according to  meteorologist Derrick Weitlich with the National Weather Service Melbourne, but as thunderstorms moved offshore, a marine warning was issued for the area.

Thunderstorms that moved through the area between 3:16 p.m. and  5:15 p.m. could have suddenly and drastically changed those conditions, Weitlich said.

He said the thunderstorm that prompted two-hour special marine warning was expected to produce wind speeds of 39 mph, and increased wave heights anywhere from 20 to 60 miles offshore.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville Command Center at 904-714-7558

Follow Corey Arwood on Twitter: @coreyarwood.

This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Search continues for missing firefighter boaters off Florida's coast