Search halted after diver’s gear found with damage indicating ‘marine predator’ encounter

Friend believes predator encounter happened after medical emergency, pointing to clues on diver gear

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The search for a missing diver last seen Saturday off the coast of Mayport was suspended Tuesday evening, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Mark Vlaun shared a statement from the Coast Guard on Twitter, saying he made the difficult decision to suspend the search, extending his thoughts and prayers to the family.

“Earlier today, the Coast Guard received a report from a volunteer dive boat indicating they had located damaged diving gear,” the Coast Guard wrote in a statement. “The Obi family confirmed that the gear belonged to Mr. Timothy Obi. The location and condition of the gear are consistent with a suspected encounter with a marine predator.”

On Tuesday night, a large vigil was held in Neptune Beach where friends and family gathered to remember Obi, a father of three and husband.

Holden Harris, a marine biologist and Obi’s friend, said he found Obi’s gear while they were searching about 700 feet southeast of the initial dive site.

Harris said that on their first dive Tuesday, they found Obi’s wetsuit and they moved the search pattern another 200 feet, where they found a buoyance compensator device, a tank, spear gun, mask and a glove.

To Harris, the condition of the gear suggests Obi had a medical emergency prior to a predator encounter. He noted the fact that everything was found all in one place and says that shows Obi did not struggle.

Harris also pointed out that Obi had his spear gun. If he had been attacked, he would have tried and been able to defend himself, Harris said.

“What seems to be probably a medical issue should not become a huge story of a shark attack. It really wasn’t. It was sharks coming in afterwards,” Harris said.

While neither Harris’ beliefs nor the Coast Guard’s suspicions into the disappearance of Obi have been confirmed, it is undoubtedly clear that Obi is extraordinarily loved by his family, friends and community.

“It’s a terrible thing -- the worst thing ever, but today was really good for (the friends he was diving with) to know that they did the absolute right thing, following every step. They don’t have to ask themselves later is there something else they could have done,” Harris said.

An account to raise funds for the Obi family has been posted online.

Obi, 36, went spearfishing with friends Saturday morning 46 miles offshore. The Coast Guard said Obi and two other divers did a safety stop together at 15 feet below the surface and then contact was lost with Obi about 5 feet below the surface.

The Coast Guard, the lead agency in the search, expanded the search area on Tuesday to account for environmental conditions and potential drift before making the decision to suspend it.

The Coast Guard said Monday morning that Coast Guard Cutter Raymond Evans and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission small boats were conducting surface searches, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection aircraft was searching with advanced optical/infrared technology, FWC had an air asset on scene, and the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department planned to conduct side sonar scanning.

Obi’s friends and other volunteers also assisted in the search, which covered more than 3,800 square nautical miles and lasted about 89 hours.

About the Author:

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