Volunteer who found tackle bag felt called to come search

Garrett Shurling's group spotted missing firefighter's bag in ocean

VIDEO: Ashley Harding talks with a volunteer helping with the search about how he felt when he found the missing boater's bag.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A volunteer searcher who pulled a glimmer of hope out of the ocean Monday when he spotted a missing fisherman's tackle bag told News4Jax he felt called to join the search.

Garrett Shurling said he came down from Savannah with his father and a friend to help look for Brian McCluney, a firefighter and paramedic with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, and Justin Walker, another firefighter from Virginia.

The pair have been missing since they left Friday on a fishing trip out of Port Canaveral.

On Monday, hours after McCluney's wife, Stephanie, posted on Facebook that “Miracles happen on Day 3!” Shurling's group spotted a tackle bag on the ocean about 50 nautical miles off the coast of St. Augustine.

The bag turned out to be McCluney's.

“It was really surreal. We ran so far out into the ocean yesterday and to think of the chances of intersecting with that bag and it actually being Brian's is just amazing,” Shurling told News4Jax on Tuesday, before heading back out to rejoin the search. “We're happy to be a very small part of the process.”

Shurling said he is an avid fisherman and spends many hours on the ocean. He said he was at church Sunday in Savannah when he felt compelled to help look for the missing firefighters.

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“Man, if that was me, I sure would want somebody else to be out there looking,” Shurling said. “(We) got some confirmation during church that that's what God wanted us to go do, so we just packed up and headed on down here.”

After a false alarm over the weekend when debris turned out not to be from the missing boaters, Shurling's find on Monday brought relief to McCluney's still-hopeful loved ones and helped searchers narrow their focus.

"I wholeheartedly believe this is a bread crumb they (threw) overboard to say, “We are here, come find us,'" Stephanie McCluney wrote on Facebook. "I am standing firm on my (faith) in prayer and that this be our Lord and savior guiding our path. Please continue to send prayers, donations to aid the search at JFRD.com."

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As the efforts to find the missing men intensified Tuesday, Shurling also encouraged anyone who is able to donate to the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue search fund. He said the cost of the fuel for boats and planes for the massive search will start to really add up, and every bit can help in bringing the men home safely.

He also had a message for the men's families.

“I just want them to know we're here and we're doing everything we can. We got a lot of people back home praying and supporting us,” Shurling said. “We're here for them.”

About the Authors:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013 and reports every weekday for The Morning Show.

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.