The Coast Guard spotted what it thinks may have been a flare while searching for a father and three teens whose impaired sailboat went missing — raising a small ray of hope that some of them could be alive.
A helicopter "saw what they believed to be a media flare raise for about three seconds in the search area" at about 2:30 a.m. Thursday, Coast Guard Sector Commander Gregory Case told reporters. "We have been covering that area since last night and into today."
It was also spotted by a Coast Guard response boat, Case said. But he acknowledged officials weren't sure it was a flare.
"It could be anything ... plane light reflections," he said.
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The sighting came a day after search teams made the grim discovery of a body clad in a life vest off the western coast of Florida, where Ace Kimberly, his two sons, and his daughter went missing. The body hadn't been identified as of Thursday.
"We continue to hold out hope," Case said. "We still have hope they're out there, we're still searching. It's an active search-and-rescue mission."
Also Thursday morning, more items belonging to the family were recovered, including a bucket that contained birth certificates and a GPS. They were found about five and a half miles west of where the body was located, according to Case.
"We've remained in close contact with the family," he said. "As a father of four, I know how devastating these findings are to them."
The body was spotted Wednesday around 4:30 p.m. by helicopter, hours after authorities first found items bobbing in the water that had been on the boat — including six life vests, a tarp, water jugs, a pair of tennis shoes, and later, the two kayaks the vessel was towing.
The items were discovered near Sanibel Island, about 33 miles offshore.
Kimberly and his children — Becky, 17, Donny, 15, and Roger, 13 — left Sarasota on Sunday morning to go to Fort Myers, where Kimberly's brother was going to help him repair their boat.
They were last heard from Sunday afternoon, when Kimberly called his brother to tell him the boat was in 6-foot seas, and said the family was attempting to survive offshore.
The 29-foot vessel vanished near Englewood, on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida. The Coast Guard launched a search on Tuesday after the brother called to report they never made it to Fort Myers.
The search has covered more than 20,000 nautical miles using a HC-130 Hercules plane, a Coast Guard cutter and two other boats.
"The time lapse [before they were reported missing] makes it challenging. It's tough," Case said. "We want to get out there and save them."
Kimberly and his children had been living in the boat for about a year, anchored in Sarasota. No distress call was issued when they went missing. There were "squalls, or typical thunderstorms," going across the area at the time, according to Case.