The USCG search and rescue effort for eight men still missing in the gulf will end today at sunset, Coast Guard officials say.
The Coast Guard, National Transportation Safety Board, and Seacor Marine gave an update Monday on the response efforts for the capsized Seacor Power.
"Our focus now will begin to shift," said Capt. Will E. Watson, sector commander sector New Orleans.
Watson said he'd just shared that decision with the families of those still missing.
"There was a lot of crying and grieving, but there also was a lot of hope," he said.
The company's efforts will continue; officials said their contract divers will be in the water searching every minute the weather permits.
"Please know that this transition away from the Coast Guard does not change our commitment to recover all of the missing," said John Gellert, President, Chief Executive Officer, and Director of Seacor Marine. "Our focus is entirely on doing all we can to continue these efforts."
When asked how the USCG made the decision to suspend, Watson explained that the "overriding factor is the probability that a person can survive given the conditions, over a period of time."
In response to a media question that would require some speculation, Watson demurred.
"We've just come from talking to the families, and those folks are still holding out hope, and they have a lot of faith that things may still work out. So I don't want to be speaking in that way about this," he said.
Coast Guard boat and aircrews, local agency crews and good Samaritans searched for a cumulative 175 hours, covering more than 9,200 square nautical miles.
“We extend our appreciation to everyone who volunteered to assist during the search effort. Suspending a search is one of the toughest decisions the Coast Guard has to make," Watson said. “Our crews searched continuously over the past six days with the hope of bringing the missing crewmembers home to their loved ones. I would like to extend my deepest and most sincere condolences to the families, friends and loved ones--all those impacted by this terrible tragedy. I know that this is an immensely difficult time for you all, and for the entire maritime community.”
Andrew Ehlers with NTSB also offered sentiments to the families of those missing, and the community that has been affected by the tragedy.
"People really are the heart of what we do, and that's why we focus on getting the answers right. We want to be sure we support the families and prevent an accident like this from happening again," he said.
The investigation will focus on the weather, and the National Weather Service is helping with that, he said.
The expertise and knowledge of other organizations that can help investigators understand the use and function of the vessel also will be tapped, he said.
"An investigation of this complexity and this size takes time, so we expect the investigation will take anywhere from 12 to 24 months," he said.
He said some people have asked to help. The NTSB would like to hear from people who were on the waters that day, he said, and they'd like to hear from people who served on that vessel in the past. That would include information, pictures and videos.
If you fall into that category and want to help, reach out via email at eyewitness@NTSB.gov
Ehlers said the salvage of the vessel will be conducted by the company, using a plan that must be approved by the Coast Guard.
Gellert of Seacor said he was there when the Coast Guard spoke to the families.
The family meeting was "very emotional," and he requested for continued prayers for the families and the missing.
He thanked the Coast Guard for saving the six men who survived, and said that, going forward the company will communicate directly with family members and respect their privacy, he said. Updates will be released as appropriate, he said, because he understands how invested the community is in the situation.
"We are steadfast in our efforts to return those who remain missing," he said.
Gellar said that, every minute the weather allows, divers will be on the wreck, searching.
"There were warnings, but not of the magnitude we encountered," Gellar said in response to a media question about the day of the incident.
The weather was a focus of the questions from media. Gellar said the captain had 50 years of experience, "was one of our best captains, very conservative. I believe he wouldn't have gone out if he had any doubt whatsoever."
That being said, Gellar also said that "the go, no-go decision is entirely the captain's" and added that he would not "speculate on what the weather conditions he encountered were."
Gellar said the weather they were forecasted to encounter were well within the limits of what the vessel could handle, but he also said the weather was much worse than forecasted. He said all indications are that the situation required a rapid response, and that the captain was focused on the safety of his crew.
One of the survivors was on the bridge with the captain, so some information should be available about what happened to investigators, Gellar said. He said at the very least, the company hopes to learn from this tragedy and use that knowledge to prevent future accidents.
The live stream will be made available below:
Monday began the seventh day of searching following the capsizing of the Seacor Power lift boat on Tuesday, April 13.
The Coast Guard was on scene of the capsized lift boat within 30 minutes of the vessel's first emergency transmission after it capsized eight miles off the coast of Port Fourchon in Lafourche Parish.
19 crew members were on board the commercial boat when it capsized during severe weather on Tuesday. Six have been rescued, five have been confirmed dead, and eight remain missing as of Sunday, April 18.
To read more about the search, those who have been recovered and those that are still missing:
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