Wife of missing boater joins in search efforts for husband, friend

Authorities ramped up the search for two missing firefighters who set out by boat last week from the state's Atlantic coast.

Jacksonville Interim Fire Chief Keith Powers said the agency was calling for as "many boats" as could be mustered Tuesday in the ongoing search for Brian McCluney and Justin Walker. The firefighters departed last Friday on their outing aboard a 24-foot (7.3-meter) vessel from Port Canaveral.

Justin Walker's wife, Natasha, joined in the search efforts on Tuesday, scanning the ocean from above for any sign.

"I wouldn’t be in a plane today, if I didn’t think he was out there alive," she said. "I think I have black eyes now from binoculars from the last two days." 

Joe Hurston, of Air Mobile Ministries is assisting in the search and said Natasha had never flown in a little airplane before.

"She jumped in that airplane, strapped herself down, and I call her 'Hawkeye,'" he said. 

Walker returned to Brevard County late Tuesday evening, still with no answers.  Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies have been searching a wide expanse of ocean between Cape Canaveral and Jacksonville off Florida's east coast. On Monday, crews found McCluney's fishing tackle bag some 50 miles (80 kilometers) off St. Augustine in north Florida.

"I would say the next 24 hours are absolutely critical," explained Capt. Mark Vlaun, with the Coast Guard. "We can't put it any clearer that we are absolutely in a race against time." 

McCluney works for the Jacksonville department while Walker is a master technician with the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department in Virginia, just outside the nation's capital.

McCluney's wife, Stephanie, said Tuesday the discovery of her husband's tackle bag has given her hope that the men will be found. The search on Tuesday focused on that same area where the bag was located.

"We continue to search, until there’s no reasonable expectation that we’ll be successful," Capt. Vlaun added. "Were still engaged in the search, and we believe success is possible." 

The weather has been cooperative, but it could become an issue on Wednesday, said FOX 35 Chief Meteorologist Glenn Richards.

"As we go through the morning hours, it's looking pretty good off the coastline from St. Augustine to Jacksonville about 10 miles (16.09 km) to 20 miles (32.19 km) offshore, but later on in the afternoon, expect showers and storms to explode above Gulf Stream waters," Richards added.

The search continued well after sundown on Tuesday and was expected to go into the night. 

"I am really appreciative," Natasha said. "My family and friends and people I don’t even know, they’re the only things holding me up right now."


This story was written out of Lake Mary, Florida.  The Associated Press and FOX 35's Danielle Lama contributed to this report.