From sea and air, efforts continue to rescue missing diver

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

MAYPORT, Fla. – The U.S. Coast Guard has updated the search area for those in boats and aircraft searching for Timothy Obi, a diver who went missing off the coast of Mayport Sunday morning.

The Coast Guard is now asking volunteers to search the areas west of the site where Obi disappeared on Saturday, marked below as Zone 1 and Zone 2. Authorities say covering this area provides the best chance at covering the most nautical miles possible.

The U.S. Coast Guard has established two additional search areas for volunteer boaters west of the incident to best...

Posted by U.S. Coast Guard Southeast on Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Coast Guard said search efforts should also be focused on the East side of Zone 1 and for people be on the lookout for a black wetsuit or inflatable buoy. Obi had both items with him at the time he went missing.

A Coast Guard cutter stayed looking for Obi through the night Monday and a U.S. Customs and Border Protection plane joined the efforts Tuesday morning. It’s the fourth day of rescue officials and volunteers have been looking for the missing diver off the coast of Mayport.

In the first three days, the search covered more than 2,500 square nautical miles, according to the Coast Guard. For perspective, that’s about the size of Ottawa, Canada’s fourth-largest city.

RELATED: ‘Everybody is looking’: Coast Guard calls in more resources

About a half-dozen agencies and community volunteers are searching by air and boat and using sonar technology, which can detect objects underwater.

One of Timothy Obi’s friends said many other volunteers are planning to leave this morning.

He said he went out searching for several hours Monday and will be out Tuesday as long as the weather permits. He is encouraging people to help if they can.

“We need boats, volunteers, divers, planes just anyone that has a boat that is safe that can get out there to the dive site and work the Coast Guard coordinates and know there’s a southeast drift so just be a smart captain, be safe and we need volunteers,” Mike Atlee said.

Obi’s family said the 36-year-old 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. “It’s very rare for a diver to go missing. It does not happen often.”

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. It was set to head out again Tuesday.

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.

“We feel for the people. That’s why we do this job. We are here because we care and you always want to have that hope we are going to find them and everything is going to be great,” said JFRD Lt. Casey Geiger.

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

Many boats are expected to be out on the water Tuesday for the Kingfish Tournament.

Some competitors said they plan to keep an eye out.

But Obi’s close friends are asking anyone with a boat that can safely go offshore to help in the search.

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

“Volunteering is everything. It shows community support. It’s what we are seeing a close community,” Atlee said.

Obi’s friends and family will gather in Neptune Beach on Tuesday night and light candles for Obi.

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