Search suspended for family lost at sea; 2 bodies identified

Published: Updated:
Via U.S. Coast Guard

FORT MYERS, Fla. – The search for a family reported missing in the Gulf of Mexico has been suspended, Coast Guard Capt. Gregory Case said in a press conference Saturday.

Case also confirmed two bodies recovered from the Sarasota family of four belonged to Ace Kimberly, 45, and daughter Rebecca Kimberly, 17. Ace Kimberly’s sons ‚ÄĒ 14-year-old Roger Kimberly and 16-year-old Donny Kimberly ‚ÄĒ are still missing.

The search, which began Tuesday, covered more than 33,830 square nautical miles, according to the Coast Guard. A Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission investigation will continue.

“I made the very difficult decision to suspend the active search operations for the Kimberly family,” Case said. “It is with a heavy heart and sincere condolences to the family and friends that I do this. This is probably the most difficult decision I ever have to make in this position.”

Case said in a Thursday morning press conference that the Coast Guard believes they saw a flare sent out at about 2:30 a.m. that morning from the search area for the family that went missing¬†after¬†their 29-foot sailboat¬†disappeared while¬†traveling to Fort Myers. He¬†cautioned that flare sightings can be tricky and that the possibility exists that what they saw might not have been a flare. Still, they’re working off the assumption that it was, Case said.

A Coast Guard official said Thursday that the agency never received a distress call.

“We are doing everything we can and throwing everything we have at this search,” Case said this week, before the search was suspended.

Crews recovered several items in an area about 35 miles off Sanibel, including a cell phone, birth certificates, a wallet, as well as kayaks and wetsuits. They found what they thought at one point was a sailboat mast, but it was just a bucket of fishing gear.

Earlier, the brother of Ace Kimberly told Coast Guard officials that a tarp, four water bottles, tennis shoes, a basketball, a propane tank and six life jackets belonged to the family.

“Rebecca had a life jacket on but Ace, the father, did not,” Case said.

Maj. Roger Young of the wildlife commission says state investigators will evaluate all the debris recovered from the five-day search in the waters off southwest Florida.

It remains unclear whether the boat sank where the debris was found, or if the family had to abandon ship. Young says investigators will “try to get to the bottom of what happened.”

The boaters had set out to visit the brother, Fort Myers resident Lawrence Joseph Browning, and have repairs done to the boat. Staff at Marina Jack, where the family would on occasion stop to get fuel, described their boat as “rickety.”

The boat was outfitted with many of the tools necessary for the trip, but it lacked a VHF marine radio, which is more reliable than a cell phone, and an emergency position indicating radio beacon device, which allows rescue authorities to track the location of a vessel in distress, the Coast Guard said.

Authorities are trying to figure out how much boating experience Ace Kimberly had. The last anyone heard from him or his children was at about 3 p.m. Sunday, when he called Browning and told him he was struggling in 6-foot seas off Englewood, the Coast Guard said.

“A brother said he was experiencing rough seas and thunderstorms and he was worried and wanted his brother on land to send him some weather reports and that’s the last that he heard from him,” Case said.

Browning alerted the agency on Tuesday, Case said. The Coast Guard officials wouldn’t speculate when asked why Browning waited two days to contact them.¬†Cangemi said earlier in the week, before the search was suspended, that he was optimistic that survivors would be found.

The Coast Guard has searched an area stretching from Boca Grande to Fort Myers, deploying multiple crews:

  • HC-130 Hercules fixed-wing rescue aircrew
  • MH-60 Jayhawk aircrew
  • 45-foot Response boat-medium boat crew
  • 45-foot response boat-medium boat crew
  • A Coast Guard cutter

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office, the¬†Iona-McGregor and Cape Coral fire departments, the¬†Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and customs and border protection were all involved in the search.

Anyone with information about the family is asked to contact the Coast Guard at (727)824-7506 or FWC at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922).

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Copyright ©2024 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.