Coast Guard suspends search for missing boater

20-year-old was already out of boat when it struck Buckman Bridge early Thursday morning

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In the first 24 hours after a 30-foot recreational crab boat was found empty and stuck on the pillars of the Buckman Bridge, personnel in the water and from the air searched more than 72 square miles of the St. Johns River looking for the missing boater. That area is roughly the same size as Washington, D.C.

Shortly before 8 p.m., the U.S. Coast Guard said that it suspended its search for the missing man.

The Coast Guard, Jacksonville Fire and Rescue and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission joined local responders in the search shortly after an off-duty police officer reported seeing a boat spinning aimlessly in a circle in the St. Johns River just before 8 a.m. Thursday. Minutes later, it crashed into the bridge.

FWC, the lead agency, identified the missing man as 20-year-old Michael Vaughn III, of St. Augustine, who was out crab fishing by himself. Local fishermen, who said they know Vaughn, pray that he’s found. One of them told News4Jax he believes the younger Vaughn was out on the water alone around 6 a.m. Thursday.

Friends told News4Jax that he had worked with his dad on a crab boat since he was 8 years old and took the lead role in the family business when his dad had to deal with medical issues.

Rescuers ask anyone who may be getting on the river to please keep a sharp eye out for any signs of the missing boater. A few people out on the water Friday said this kind of incident brings the fishing community closer.

“The community just comes together as one. And they just, you know, everybody helps each other out,” said Will Neiman, who went out on the St. Johns River on Friday. “Whenever stuff like this happens, everybody just prays and hopes for the best.”

Neiman, who’s familiar with the river, said few people realize how dangerous of a task fishing can be.

“It can be a dangerous area, you know, the winds pick up, especially these wintertime winds that we get the nor’easters and stuff,” Neiman said. “We’ve been having some real strong west winds. And those have been really creating some treacherous situations out there. And, you know, just got to be careful.”

As a fisherman for most of his life, Neiman wanted to send a reminder to everyone out on the water to wear safety vests and be safe.

About the Authors:

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

A Florida girl and North Carolina A&T SU grad who thrives in breaking news.