Coast Guard suspends search for missing boaters, families 'not giving up'

Capt. Mark Vlaun: If new clues come forth, active search will restart

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The active search for two firefighters was suspended Thursday at sundown almost a week after the men went missing after departing Cape Canaveral on a fishing trip, according to Coast Guard sector commander Capt. Mark Vlaun.

Brian McCluney, a Jacksonville firefighter, and Justin Walker, a Fairfax County, Virginia, firefighter, were last seen Friday while leaving Port Canaveral on a fishing trip in a 24-foot center console boat.

McCluney grew up in Cocoa and graduated from Merritt Island High School before joining the Navy, his mother told Florida Today. 

A massive search for the missing boaters has been underway since Friday from south of Brevard County north to Charleston, South Carolina.

[RELATED: Brunswick, Savannah boat owners needed in search for missing firefighters | Missing boater's mother remains optimistic as search continues ]

The men failed to return from their trip last Friday. Since then, the only sign of the boaters was a tackle bag found Monday about 50 miles off the coast of St. Augustine.

A life vest was found Wednesday, but it was not connected to the missing boaters, officials said.

Vlaun said that without new clues, the Coast Guard can no longer search "without any reasonable degree of success."

"I've made the extreme difficult decision that we will suspend the active search today at sundown," Vlaun said Thursday outside a Jacksonville hotel where the firefighters' families have been staying.

Vlaun said if new information is discovered, such as another item from the missing boaters, the active search will immediately restart.

Meanwhile, the families and friends of the firefighters will continue their search.

"We are not giving up, we're just not giving up," Justin Walker ‘s wife told News 6 partner WJXT while holding a Bible in her arms Thursday afternoon.

"The Coast Guard can only do so much and this is bigger than man," Natasha Walker said. "I can't give up, the community hasn't given up on me either."

On Thursday the search efforts moved north, concentrating on an area off the coasts of South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia.

The Coast Guard will continue to have a presence in the area. 

Anyone with information about the boaters or who can help in the search is asked to call the Coast Guard at 904-714-7565.

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