Coast Guard ends search for diver missing after 'tragic accident' near shipwreck off Florida Keys
Florida Keys Keynoter August 8, 2023
(Tribune News Service) — The U.S. Coast Guard called off its search Monday for a man who disappeared while scuba diving off a well-known Key West shipwreck last week.
Thomas Aaron Faulkenberry, 44, disappeared last Wednesday afternoon while diving the USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, a former 17,120-ton military troop transport and missile-tracking ship that sits 140 feet on the bottom of the ocean.
The wreck, about seven miles off Key West, was intentionally sunk in May 2009 to serve as an artificial reef and has since become a popular dive destination.
Faulkenberry, from Stock Island, was last seen about 9:20 a.m. the day of the dive, and crew members aboard the dive boat Dream Cat reported him missing to the Coast Guard around 10:13 a.m., the agency said Monday. He was a dive instructor for Lost Reef Adventures in Key West, according to the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.
"This was a tragic accident," Capt. Jason Ingram, commander, Sector Key West, said in a statement. "Diving is an inherently dangerous activity. Mr. Faulkenberry's passion for the sea is well remembered by the dive community here in the Keys and my deepest condolences are with his family at this difficult time."
During the nearly-six-day search, rescue crews scoured about 4,300 square miles for Faulkenberry, the Coast Guard said.
According to two GoFundMe accounts set up to help his family pay bills, Faulkenberry served in the Coast Guard for nearly 20 years and has a wife and four sons who range in age from 15 to 21.
His disappearance was the second dive tragedy to happen in the Florida Keys last week. A 13-year-old boy died while freediving last Tuesday off the Middle Keys.
The Monroe County Sheriff's Office did not release specific details about the incident, other than to say the 13-year-old boy was in about 25 feet of water with another 13-year-old when it happened.
A boater took the boy to shore to the city of Marathon. Paramedics took him to Fishermen's Hospital, where he died, according to the sheriff's office.
Although the search for Faulkenberry has been called off, the Coast Guard is asking anyone with information about him to call Sector Key West at 305-292-8727.
Miami Herald staff writer Omar Rodriguez Ortiz contributed to this report.
(c)2023 the Florida Keys Keynoter (Marathon, Fla.)
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.