PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. — The search intensified Tuesday for two fishermen missing out of Port Canaveral since Friday, in an area where a tackle bag was found.
- Brian McCluney, Justin Walker have been missing since Friday
- McCluney's tackle bag found by volunteer
#UPADTE 13: @USCG crews continue to search for the overdue @PortCanaveral boaters. An HC-130 search plane and 2 CBP C-130 planes are conducting a first light search and 2 87-ft patrol boats and a fast response cutter searched through the night and remain on scene. #HappeningNow pic.twitter.com/u6a0vXjVfE— USCGSoutheast (@USCGSoutheast) August 20, 2019
On Monday, a tackle bag belonging to one of the missing boaters was found off the coast of St. Augustine, family members confirmed.
A volunteer found the bag, and the family confirmed the bag belonged to Brian McCluney, one of the two fire firefighters.
The chief for the Jacksonville Fire Rescue Dept. said the agency will ramp up the search in that area, and is looking for volunteers with a boat that can travel 30 to 60 miles from shore.
Volunteers came out to the Mayport Boat Ramp in Jacksonville at 7 a.m. to check in.
The families of McCluney and Justin Walker said they were just going out for a quick fishing trip Friday so the two firefighters could test a boat before trying to sell it.
The U.S. Coast Guard stretched its search from Charlotte, South Carolina, all the way south to Port Canaveral for the men. The missing boat is a 23-foot Robalo center console, with a white hull with a black T top.
According to Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Dickinson from U.S. Coast Guard Jacksonville, their agency does search and rescue and not recovery, which is a good sign for the families of the missing boaters.
So far, crews have totaled an estimated 24,000 miles in the search. On Monday, air and marine operations deployed a long range tracker plane, two multi-role enforcement aircraft, and a marine crew.
On Sunday afternoon, the Coast Guard said a civilian aircraft reported seeing a vessel matching the description of the missing boat about 50 miles east of Jacksonville. A Coast Guard search plane diverted to the site, where a cooler and life jackets were found.
About an hour later, the Coast Guard announced that the found items were determined to be unrelated to the missing men.
The men's targeted fishing location was about 30 to 35 miles out of Port Canaveral. Chief Petty Officer Luke Clayton of the Coast Guard said search crews have covered an estimated 4,800 miles, from the south to north, from Port Canaveral to the north of Jacksonville.
McCluney's wife, Stephanie, organized a beach search, which kicked off at 4 p.m. Sunday at Jetty Park. She hoped to round up as many people as possible to help with the search, which will span beaches along the Florida-Georgia line.
"We want every square inch of beach covered, prayer walks, too, and community involvement," Stephanie McCluney said. "We would like eyes out for anything they might have tossed over in hopes of getting attention.”
Jennifer Zinnert was part of the search party Sunday. She said a friend almost 4,000 miles away reached out to her asking her for help. Her family all participated in the search, knowing time is crucial.
"(I) got a Facebook message from a friend in Alaska whose friend is associated with one of the boaters missing,” Zinnert said.
The boat, which belonged to Brian McCluney's father before he died, got a new battery, and the two firefighters from different departments decided to take it out for a fishing trip before selling it. Stephanie McCluney said both Brian McCluney and Justin Walker are both avid boaters and skilled survivalists.
"(They) hit the water at 11 o'clock at Port Canaveral. It was supposed to be a quick fishing trip," said Kevin McCluney, older brother of Brian and a friend of Walker's.
According to Kevin McCluney, the duo was supposed to be back by 6 p.m. Friday. He found out the boat had issues before, and this was the first time it had been back in the water.
"They bought a new battery for it. They had an electrical problem, probably. There is a radio on the boat; they didn't use it," he said.
"He knows what he's doing; he's been fishing in these waters since we were children," Kevin McCluney said of his brother, a U.S. Navy veteran. "He knows the water. He knows this spot. He knows what to do for sure."
The Coast Guard said late Sunday that crews and partner agencies would continue the search through the night.
Meanwhile, Stephanie McCluney said she knows her husband is still alive. She said the friends probably packed some sandwiches and drinks before heading fishing.
“I'm guessing they are just sitting there floating with no systems working just waiting to be picked up,” she said.
Stephanie said the hardest part is hearing their children ask for their father.
“The kids (are) asking so many questions. They just said, 'Why don't you bring him home already?'” she said.
Reporter Rebecca Turco contributed to this story.