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Coast Guard suspends 11-day search for missing 82-year-old man along East Coast

The Coast Guard suspended its search Monday evening for an 82-year-old man who went missing while transiting from Maryland to Florida.

On Oct. 24, a family member notified watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads that she had lost contact with Hugh Blankenship during his voyage.

He was last seen on Oct. 23 departing Rudee Inlet in Virginia Beach, Va., aboard the 29-foot sailing vessel Marta.

Fifteen Coast Guard aircraft and 12 Navy assets searched for a combined total of 105 hours and covered a search area of 352,464 square nautical miles.

Involved in the search were:

  • Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules and HC-144 Ocean Sentry airplane crews from Air Stations Elizabeth City, Clearwater and Cape Cod
  • Six Navy SH-60 Seahawk helicopter crews
  • The crews of USS Bainbridge, USS Gonzalez, USS Mason, USS McFaul, USS Leyte Gulf, and USS George H. W. Bush

Coast Guard units throughout the 5th and 7th Districts also repeatedly conducted radio callouts for Blankenship, conferred with over 295 marinas from Virginia to Florida, issued urgent marine information broadcasts and transmitted enhanced group calling messages.

“Our deepest sympathies go out to the friends and family of Hugh Blankenship,” said Rear Adm. Keith Smith, commander of the 5th Coast Guard district. “Suspending a search is one of the most difficult decisions we make as a life-saving service.”

“We would like to thank every single person who aided in the search for Mr. Blankenship,” said Capt. Brendan Kelly, the senior officer in charge of Coast Guard search and rescue efforts for the case. “We greatly appreciate everyone who shared our social media post, which reached nearly 154,000 people, some of whom responded with additional information and assisted with the search.

“We also want to remind mariners of the importance of filing a float plan and equipping their vessels with multiple communication devices, especially a fixed VHF-FM marine radio. Additionally, we strongly encourage mariners to carry cell phones and emergency position indicating radio beacons that have been properly registered with NOAA whenever they get underway.”

Anyone with new information regarding this case should contact the Coast Guard 5th District command center at 757-398-6390.

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