Searchers hope dive flag, inflatable buoy will lead them to missing diver

First responders, volunteers searching for Timothy Obi off coast of Mayport

It is the third day of the search for 37-year-old missing diver, Timmy Obi. The Coast Guard commander tells us that they will continue their efforts all night over the area he was last seen.

MAYPORT, Fla. – Search crews from about a half-dozen agencies along with community volunteers were back on the water Monday, looking for a missing diver off the coast of Mayport.

They were searching by air and boat and using sonar technology on Monday, which marked the third day of the search for Timothy Obi. According to the Coast Guard, they’ve covered 2,500 square miles in total.

The Coast Guard said the search will continue through the night. Coast Guard Cutter Raymond Evans will be out searching, and the Navy is scheduled to fly over the area where Obi was last seen.

The family said Obi, 36, went diving and spearfishing with friends Saturday morning and was last seen about 46 miles offshore near Elton Bottom. The U.S. Coast Guard said the group of divers did a safety stop together at 15 feet below the surface and then lost contact with Obi about 5 feet below the surface.

News4Jax learned that Obi was wearing a black wet suit and had a dive flag and an inflatable buoy with him. If he was able to deploy that, the Coast Guard said that could help.

“If he has a flag and a buoy, then they can see it from the air. Other boaters can see it as well,” said diving instructor Christopher Borger, who has been diving with Obi before.

Obi is a father to three children and a husband. His wife said he is a good swimmer and an experienced diver.

Obi’s brother sent News4Jax a statement on Monday, thanking all the crews and agencies searching for Obi:

“We would like to thank the crews from the USCG, JSO, JFRD, and FWC and all the volunteers for their compassion, their professionalism, and their steadfast dedication to finding Timmy. The USCG, in particular, have been absolutely amazing: providing detailed daily updates; being available and responsive literally all hours of the day; and bringing real humanity in an inhuman ordeal. We are eternally grateful to all of them.”

RELATED: Coast Guard enlists more resources | Weather, current factors in search | Sonar, FLIR cameras being used in search for missing diver

Capt. Mark Vlaun, commander of Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville, said the Coast Guard’s boats and aircraft completed another round of searches throughout the day on Monday. An aircraft from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol also assisted, completing aerial scans over the search area, according to the Coast Guard. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was out with surface and air assets, as were the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit and the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, which continued side sonar scans.

“It’s very rare for a diver to go missing. It does not happen often,” said Borger.

The 36-year-old, father of 3 vanished at sea Saturday.

Friends join search

Volunteers joined first responders in the search. Friends and even boaters who never knew Obi were assisting.

“We went out Saturday around 7:30 but got turned around about 30 miles out by the weather,” said David Knaughton, a friend of Obi. “Tim’s one of the good guys. You go. That’s all we thought about. He’ll be back.”

Knaughton said he searched for Obi by boat on Saturday and he showed up at the Mayport Boat Ramp on Monday with his radio to keep tabs on the search and to pray.

“He’s a great guy,” Knaughton said. “Looking forward to having a cold beer when he comes back.”

Flyers were posted at the boat ramp, asking for help in the search. Volunteers are asked to coordinate through the Coast Guard using Channel 16.

Brian Atlee, Langford Covington and another close friend went searching for Obi on Monday for 8 hours.

“He’d do the same for us that we’re doing for him,” Atlee said.

“He means everything to us. He’s my best friend,” Covington said. “We tried to follow a grid pattern as much as we could. We’d go a mile between each line that we’d take.”

Covington said he and his friends were searching on Sunday as well and said there were more volunteers searching that day.

“I think we need to see a lot more participation from anyone that has a boat, has an airplane capable of doing a long distance,” Covington said.

He also urged more divers to search.

“If we could get more people diving in the site he disappeared in, it’d be good to go down there,” he said.

The annual Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament is this week, and with more than 300 boats in the tournament, one participant said he hopes people will be on the lookout.

Diver safety

Borger, the diving instructor, said there are several things divers should keep in mind before getting in the water.

“I know when I dive offshore, I carry a spare air tank in case anything was to happen. Just in case, I can rescue myself. No matter if it’s daytime or not, always dive with two dive lights -- a primary and just an emergency backup,” Borger said. “A safety sausage is something that’s also really important, especially if you’re diving further out. The safety sausage can be orally inflated.”

About the Authors:

Reports weekdays on The Morning Show

Brie Isom joined the News4JAX team in January 2021 after spending three years covering news in South Bend, Indiana.