St. Petersburg, FL -- The U.S. Coast Guard is continuing its search Friday for the two remaining family members who went missing in rough waters over the weekend. By the end of today, the Coast Guard says it will have searched 27,832 square nautical miles.
The search for a missing Sarasota family took another grim turn Thursday when search crews found a second body.
On Thursday, there were more developments. One, offered a glimmer of hope.
Captain Gregory Case said around 8:15 a.m., there was another discouraging find: one of the response boats recovered a bucket which contained birth certificates, GPS, wallet, cell phone, cigarettes, a pool noodle and a toolbox about 5.5 miles west of where the body was found.
Around 11:55 a.m., an aircraft found what appeared to be a sailboat mast 101 miles offshore Fort Myers, Florida. A Coast Guard ship investigated and it turned out to be a crab pot and fishing gear.
At 1:15 a.m., 60 miles offshore, the Coast Guard says it found another kayak. This time, a yellow plastic boat, similar to a green one pulled from the water the previous day. Both, they say, were vessels they’d hoped the Kimberly family might have used as a lifeboats.
“We found a yellow kayak that fits the description of the one that Mr. Kimberly was telling behind one of the two he was towing behind his sailboat,” said Case.
One glimmer of hope -- perhaps the reason they were still calling this a rescue mission early Thursday, came at 2:30 a.m.. A response boat and helicopter saw what was believed to be a meteor flare for about three seconds in the search area. It was not a hand-held flare like the one pulled from the water Wednesday. This flare was the kind that goes up in the air, like a bright white light in the sky.
"We immediately developed a search pattern for that and we have been covering that area since last night and into today," said Case.
Officials were also quick to add that it could have been from a plane or a military exercise.
“Flare sightings are difficult, because whether it was a flare or not, we're not sure. We treated like it was. It was in the search area. And, of course, we are searching that very hard,” said Case. “It could be anything: plane lights, reflection -- I mean, we get thousands of reports; some of them are flares. Some of them aren't. But we treat them all as if they are. We're certainly treating this one is if it was.”
Case said they've been in constant contact with the family during the developments.
For the Coast Guard and other agencies taking part in the mission, combing more than 20,000 square miles in 30 planned searches and dedicating more than 60 resource hours has become painfully personal.
“Just the fact that it's a family out there, and that's tough, you know. We want to get out there and save them,” said Case. “As a father of four, I know how devastating these findings are to them. And we are cognizant of that, and we are trying to treat them with the utmost respect.”
On Thursday, the children's mother, Pauline Solsberry, also traveled from out of state to positively identify the first body pulled from the water Wednesday that still had a life vest on.
Several reports quoting a relative say it was 17-year-old Rebecca, the oldest of three siblings. Solsberry says she sadly had not seen her in years.
“I have not talked with them since 2007 because of their father,” she said by phone Wednesday, “We found out yesterday they were living in Florida.”
The father has been identified as Ace Kimberly, 45. His three teenaged children are 17-year-old Becky, 16-year-old Donny and 14-year-old Roger.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family. We feel terrible about this, we are going to continue to search,” said Coast Guard Lt. Greg Marshall.
The first sign that search crews were in the right area came Wednesday morning when the Coast Guard spotted what appeared to be a debris field from the sailboat about 33 miles off the coast of Sanibel Island.
Crews had crisscrossed several square miles of water in a grid pattern eight times. Then, on the ninth, an HC-130 aircraft spotted the debris.
It included, Case said, “Tennis shoes, basketball, a propane tank and six lifejackets.”
Other items found included water jugs, tarps, a throwable life ring and a pair of shoes. All of it, items that relatives of the missing family say were on their live-aboard, 29-foot sailboat.
The vessel, they say, left Sarasota on Sunday heading to Fort Myers Beach for repairs.
Fred Debardelaben, a St. Petersburg boat captain who says he has survived two typhoons and three hurricanes at sea, offered his perspective.
Debardelaben says with no working radio on the Kimberly’s boat, no plan filed with the Coast Guard, and the questionable condition of the vessel - it doesn't look good.
“You need to keep your boat floating. That's the best chance of survival,” said Debardelaben. “And you have to do all of that, before you leave. It's too late once the water starts coming in.”
The poor sailing condition of the sailboat was briefly addressed by Coast Guard officials.
“They were taking a trip down there to work on the vessel. The vessel was not, not in the best of shape,” said Case.
The Coast Guard offered no reason as to why Ace Kimberly's brother waited two days to contact them. In a phone call Sunday, he says Ace had told him they were "attempting to survive" in rough seas.
Ace Kimberly had called his brother Sunday afternoon to report 6-foot seas and said that he was "attempting to survive with his children" offshore of Englewood. He also asked his brother for a weather report.
That is the last anyone has heard from the family.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Department of Defense from MacDill Air Force Base, Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office and Lee County Sheriff’s Office are also aiding in the search.