A group of friends are missing after a deep sea fishing excursion off the coast of Georgia – sparking a frantic search by the US Coast Guard 80 miles offshore.
The trio – identified last week as Dalton Conway, Caleb Wilkinson, and Tyler Barlow – have been lost since October 14, after their 31-foot vessel failed to moor in Brunswick this past Thursday as planned.
Nearly a week later, family and friends have still not heard a word – with the Coast Guard now calling the search ‘complicated’ because of the limited information it has received regarding the crew’s prospective whereabouts.
As some relatives concede ‘they are sick to the stomach’ at the though of the group’s prospective fate, searchers said in a statement that they remain ‘hopeful’ they will be found – despite already searching some 20,000 square nautical miles since Friday.
The search has since expanded more north of Brunswick – towards the Carolinas – leaving the missing’s loved ones hoping for a miracle.
Caleb – the only inexperienced fisherman on board – is seen in an undated photo on the still-missing vessel, after recently taking up deep-sea fishing and taking a job with the boat’s captain
Dalton’s sister, Stevie Conway – who is also Caleb’s girlfriend – told Action News Jax over the weekend: ‘It’s absolutely terrifying. We are sick to our stomachs.
‘Lots of tears and gatherings,’ she added. ‘Getting together to try to uplift each other and stay positive whenever we’re all wanting to fall apart.’
Then missing for three days, the group – known to extend fishing trips to maximize their catch – has still yet to be found, and their communication systems have been down since Saturday.
That said, a sensor made to go off in the event one of the emergency rafts on board hits the water has yet to sound – leaving relatives like Stevie some hope that they are still just lost at sea.
Coast Guard officials expressed similar optimism in their own statement, after beginning their search effort on Friday.
Searching all day over the weekend and again Monday, they have yet to declare the search a recovery mission, supposedly a good sign.
Speaking to the CBS affiliate, Conway said: ‘We’re just continuing to stay positive throughout all this and hoping that the Coast Guard calls us with some kind of good, positive news at some point.’
As of Monday night, such news has yet to come – despite both Dalton and Tyler being professional fishermen who regularly take these kind of trips, with the 31-foot Carol Anne reportedly well-equipped to do so.
The 31-foot Carol Ann set off with all three on board on October 14, and has yet to be found even after a 20,000 square nautical mile search in the area
Searching all day over the weekend and again Monday, officials have yet to declare the search a recovery mission – despite coming up emptyhanded after four days of searching
That said, it was the first such outing for Caleb, who is seen in an eerie photo snapped sometime before their excursion on the deck of the boat.
His brother, Cameron Wilkinson, spoke about his sibling’s nautical inexperience, while describing how he recently decided to take up deep-sea fishing and by taking a job with the boat’s captain, Dalton Conway.
‘Caleb’s always been very cautious about everything he’s done, and if he wasn’t comfortable with Dalton and going out there, then he wouldn’t have done it in the first place,’ Cameron explained to ABC News.
‘We’re all hoping they’re just drifting off and trying to figure out what to do. We have no idea what’s going on. Honestly, we’re just hoping that they come home.’
He added: ‘From me and him growing up, we never really had any experience on boats and going fishing and stuff like that. We always fished in ponds and stuff, but never anything on a boat.’
The Coast Guard, meanwhile, said 16 planes and US Coast Guard Stations stretching from Miami to North Carolina are aiding in the search, which for the fourth time in a row Monday, came up emptyhanded.
That said, a sensor made to go off in the event one of the emergency rafts on board hits the water has yet to sound, leaving relatives like Stevie Conway – Dalton’s sister and Caleb’s girlfriend – some hope that they are still just lost at sea
That day, Coast Guard Sector Charleston Lieutenant Commander Jason Erickson theorized that if the group came into trouble by a drift wrought by the infamous Gulf Stream, ‘the drift would eventually take them into the Gulf Stream which would continue to the northeast at a faster rate.’
Speaking to ABC, he reiterated how the boat was well-equipped with life vests, a satellite, and distress beacons needed to stay in communication in case of an emergency, and that no such alerts have gone off.
‘We know that the boat had an electronic beacon onboard, which we call an EPIRB, and we know that beacon has not activated,’ Erickson explained as the search concluded its fourth day.
‘It is supposed to self-activate once it gets submerged in the water, and then it should release and give a position and indicate that there is some kind of distress.
‘We have not received any beacons that have gone off. That’s a reason to be hopeful,’ he explained.
The search is set to resume Tuesday at sunrise, officials said.