Missing boater's wife helps search by air as rescue efforts continue off Florida coast

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — The wife of one of the two boaters missing since Friday morning took her search efforts into the air Tuesday morning.

Natasha Walker boarded a private plane at the Titusville airport to help comb the Florida coastline by air as the search continues for her husband, Justin Walker, and his friend, Brian McCluney. ​

Officials said the boaters, both of whom are firefighters, were last seen departing the 300 Christopher Columbus boat ramp Friday in a 24-foot center console boat heading toward the 8A reef.

"They know that we want them to keep fighting," Natasha Walker said before boarding the plane.


Officials said there are 180 searchers out looking for the men Tuesday and more than 70 boats.

The U.S. Coast Guard said Monday afternoon that⁩ a volunteer assisting in the search for the missing boaters found a tackle bag belonging to McCluney about 50 miles off the coast of St. Augustine.

Relatives said they alerted the Coast Guard after the men didn't return home as expected Friday evening.

“This is still absolutely a rescue mission. We're talking about a decorated combat vet here. We're talking about a firefighter paramedic. These guys have the skills. He was raised on the water his entire life. These guys have the skills to survive for a long time,” Jacksonville fire Chief Keith Powers said during a Monday afternoon news conference.
In an update Tuesday afternoon, Powers said the search remains a rescue mission.
Powers said 135 people in 36 boats and three aircraft spent Monday searching a 5,000-square-mile stretch of water spanning from Brunswick, Georgia, to St. Augustine.

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The Coast Guard, Navy, Brevard County Sheriff's Office, Florida Wildlife Commission and dozens of volunteers have all been searching for the pair.

The Coast Guard tweeted Monday morning that crews have searched an estimated 24,000 miles since Friday.

"Days are long and nights are longer," said Stephanie McCluney, the wife of Brian McCluney.

The Coast Guard tweeted over the weekend that they'd received leads about debris found near St. Augustine and a boat near Jacksonville, but that both were false alarms.

"There's been no debris field found anywhere, which they're confident that's a great thing," Stephanie said.

She said they hope the boat is stuck in the water somewhere and just hasn't been found yet.

Kevin McCluney, the brother of Brian McCluney, said if anyone is resourceful enough to survive, it would be these two men.

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"Between the two of them, I know they've got it locked down. It's just a matter of time," Kevin McCluney said.

Stephanie said her husband is survival-trained from his time spent in the U.S. Navy and that Justin Walker is one of the most resourceful men she knows.

"If I were ever stranded anywhere, those were the two men I'd want to be stuck with," she said.

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The families of the missing boaters are asking people to continue to share photos of the men and the boat. They're also asking volunteers to comb nearby beaches and search for anything that could have washed up on shore from the boat, such as extra life preservers.

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

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