Clearwater Coast Guard crew helps in search for missing ship

A Coast Guard crew from Clearwater is helping search for El Faro.

Debris from the ill-fated El Faro container ship is now spread over a large area near the Bahamas. A crew from the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station in Clearwater are helping search for any sign of the ship, a life boat and possibly even survivors.

A C-130 from the Coast Guard Station took off early Tuesday morning, returning just before 4 p.m. after spending more than five hours over the search area. Lt. Coletun Frank flew the C-130 with a highly trained crew looking for any sign of the El Faro or the 33 people that were on board.

“The biggest challenge with this search is having a Cat 4 hurricane parked over an island nation. It sent an incredible amount debris out into the Atlantic Ocean so we’re actually having to sift through that debris, as well any possible debris from the El Faro, and I think that’s the one of the biggest challenges that we’re facing right now in the search effort,” Lt. Frank said.

The 790-foot El Faro was equipped with two lifeboats. Searchers have found one of the lifeboats, battered and with no survivors. They are still searching for the second lifeboat.

“Some debris to note, we saw possibly life jacket. I’ll possibly a Gumby suit which we’ve passed the position of those two items to the Coast Guard cutter on scene there,” Frank said.

So far searchers found one body in a survival suit.

Search conditions on Tuesday were made slightly better by improving weather conditions in the area. “We did find a pretty good-sized debris field, which was past from yesterday and the other crews this weekend. Did see some vests, a lot it was just random to debris that it could be from the islands nearby could be from the boat. We’re not sure,” flight navigator Jeff Juniper said.

The El Faro was last seen on Thursday as Hurricane Joaquin intensified in the area. The ship was en route from Jacksonville, Florida to Puerto Rico.

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