Coast guard, fire department to halt search for missing firefighters at sundown

Brian McCluney and Just Walker went missing following a fishing trip in Florida. (WTLV, NBC News Channel)

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — U.S. Guard officials said Thursday they plan to suspend the search for two missing firefighters who disappeared after leaving a Florida port on a fishing trip last week.

The search for Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department firefighter Brian McCluney and Justin Walker of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department in Virginia was being suspended Thursday night, said Capt. Mark Vlaun, a Coast Guard sector commander.

“We have reached a point where our computer modeling and our ability to search a given location are no longer allowing us to search with any reasonable degree of a probability of success,” Vlaun said.

The Coast Guard and scores of volunteers began looking for the firefighters last Saturday, a day after they were supposed to have returned to Cape Canaveral. The search by planes and boats from the central Florida coast to the coast of South Carolina had covered 105,000 square miles.

During the search, boaters recovered a tackle bag belonging to one of the firefighters. Vlaun said the search and rescue operations could restart if other clues resurface.

“We are devastated that search efforts have been unable to return Master Technician Walker and Firefighter McCluney to their loved ones,” the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department said in a statement. “We recognize the decision to suspend targeted searches was a difficult one for the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Interim Jacksonville Fire Chief Keith Powers said family members were heartbroken by the news.

“That is an extremely tough decision because we have a brother out there we just haven’t been able to find,” Powers said.