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Miscommunication causes overnight land, sea, air search for 2 adults, 5 children
Search was unnecessary, avoidable

Posted Monday, January 7, 2013

Miscommunication causes overnight land, sea, air search for 2 adults, 5 children
Photo credit: US Coast Guard.

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ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. — A land, sea and air search for two adults and five children that began Friday night and continued until early Monday morning and involved Coast Guard boat and air crews, Casselberry, Fla., police, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Volusia County rescue crews was unnecessary, avoidable and needlessly endangered responders.

Two of the children were accompanying another family of five on their 20-foot pontoon boat for a multi-day trip, but when the group didn't return Friday night as the 12 and 14-year-old siblings' parents expected, the couple contacted Casselberry police to report the group overdue.

Casselberry police made contact with a neighbor who reportedly spoke with the family and said they indicated they were not planning to return until Sunday. After the boaters still didn't return to the pier Sunday night, Casselberry police requested Coast Guard assistance.

Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, Fla., launched an aircrew aboard an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, and Coast Guard Station Ponce de Leon Inlet, in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., launched a boatcrew aboard a 24-foot Special Purpose Craft. Also searching were Florida Fish and Wild Life Conservation Commission and Volusia County sheriffs.

Despite multiple attempts by watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville to reach the boaters, they were unable to make contact with them until about 7:30 a.m., Monday. The group reported that they were not in distress and had not planned to return until Monday afternoon.

This complex land, air and sea search involving multiple agencies and assets could have been avoided had the boaters filed a float plan.

"This search was unnecessary and put responders at significant risk looking for people who were never in danger or overdue and could have been avoided had they kept family members informed of their intentions," said Lt. Grant Johnson of Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville. "Additionally, aircraft and vessels involved in this search may not have been available to respond to actual emergencies. We cannot stress enough how important it is for boaters to leave clear float plans with friends or relatives not accompanying them underway."

Float plans provide detailed information about boaters' plans - such as departure and return times and locations - and instructions on what to do if they become overdue. Float plans can be downloaded for free and printed HERE.

Additionally, boaters are reminded to always wear their life jackets, and are highly encouraged to have a working VHF-FM marine radio as well as an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon on board. Cell phones are not a reliable means of communication in the maritime environment.

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