Search for diver missing off Miami suspended

The Coast Guard has ended its search for a scuba diver lost during a weekend trip with friends off Key Biscayne.

Initially, there was some hope for finding Jeffrey Vincent, an experienced diver visiting from California, because he was wearing a wetsuit and dive gear that included a flotation device when he was swept away by strong current during a Sunday outing. But after scouring a 2,600-square-mile area with boats, helicopters and planes for three days, the Coast Guard ended the rescue effort on Wednesday.

“It’s difficult to suspend search efforts for a missing person at sea,’’ said Capt. Chris Scraba, commander of the Coast Guard’s Miami sector, in a news release. “We would like to extend out sympathies to the families and friends affected by his disappearance.”

Vincent, a reservist with the 9th Space Operations Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base just outside Lompoc, was one of five people aboard a 27-boat anchored near the Princess Britney wreck, about three miles off Key Biscayne. The Coast Guard said he disappeared after trying to assist another diver, jumping into the water but missing a safety line secured from the stern of the vessel. The crew pulled up anchor but could not relocate him.

Alvaro Zabaleta, a detective with the Miami-Dade Police Department, which assisted in the search, said there was no indication the crew had done anything wrong.

“This has nothing to do with them being careless, it’s just the current was strong,” Zabaleta told CBS4, The Miami Herald’s news partner. “Another person tried to jump in to assist him but the current pulled him away too far. That’s when they decided to anchor up and turn the boat around to be able to assist him and that quickly is when they lost sight of him.”

The Coast Guard cautioned that divers should only enter the water when conditions are safe.

Vincent was wearing an air tank with an attached inflatable flotation device and a wet suit, both of which could have helped him survive in relatively warm waters. But the Coast Guard said he has also jumped in without his swim fins.

Dive teams found no trace of him around the wreck site in about 90 feet of water. Boats from the Aventura Police Department and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also joined in the search.

In Lompoc, neighbor Riley Martin told Central Coast News that Vincent and his wife has moved in about a year and a half ago and seemed like nice people.

“It’s a tragedy when you hear something like that happening,’’ Martin said.

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