Wife joins aerial search for firefighters lost at sea

'I need to be up there feeling like I'm searching too,' Natasha Walker says

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor, Garrett Pelican - Digital executive producer
WKMG-TV image

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - For the fourth straight day, authorities fanned out in search of two firefighters lost at sea. They were joined Tuesday by Natasha Walker, one of the men’s wives, who boarded a small plane in Titusville to help scour the ocean for signs of life.

Walker said she felt guilty waiting on shore while boats and planes filled with first responders and volunteers patrol thousands of miles of water stretching from Florida to South Carolina in hopes of finding her husband, Justin, and his friend, Brian McCluney, and bringing them home.

Though she clings to that hope, Walker said she’s going to do everything in her power to find the pair. That’s what compelled her to climb on board a volunteer’s Cessna plane and join the search.

"I need to be up there feeling like I’m searching too,” Walker said Tuesday morning. "We’ve been following everybody’s plan. I’ve been getting frustrated with the results... Going to bed at night, feeling guilty going to sleep or eating because I know our husbands are out there not doing that."

According to FlightAware, a flight-tracking website, the plane carrying Walker traveled up and down the coast of Central Florida between about 8 and 9 a.m. and again from 10:51 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.

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Her husband, a Fairfax, Virginia firefighter, and McCluney, a paramedic with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, have been missing at sea since Friday evening. The pair set out from Port Canaveral on a fishing trip that day, but authorities were notified when they did not return.

Since then, the Coast Guard, other agencies and volunteers have covered over 69,000 miles in the expanding effort, which now includes a fleet of boats and planes. So far, the search has only turned up a tackle bag belonging to McCluney in the waters off St. Augustine.

"I am blown away," McCluney's wife, Stephanie, posted on Facebook. "This is Not just man power, this truly is Mighty God power right now. The amount of people I'm getting word of mobilizing from all over! God by the glory! I cannot thank everyone enough! Let Our Lord and Savior guide our paths!"

Photo via FlightAware

Besides Coast Guard planes from Sarasota and helicopters out of Savannah, a Customs and Border Protection plane from Jacksonville and several private aircraft have joined the search.

"This is an area where they go fishing," Walker said of her husband’s fishing trip. "This is their favorite area, they go out every year, they both know this area pretty well. They’re both experienced fishermen and boaters. We’re staying optimistic."

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