The U.S. Coast Guard has suspended its search for an 82-year-old man who was last seen leaving Cape Henry, headed for the Space Coast of Florida on a 29-foot sailboat.
Hugh Blankenship, who lives in Melbourne, Florida, was on board the Catalina/Morgan vessel Marta. Blankenship’s family told Orlando outlets that he drove to Virginia to pick up a sailboat he’d bought in an online auction. He reportedly repaired the 29-footer before setting out for his trip down the Atlantic.
The boat apparently had no instruments on board, and Blankenship had only a handheld radio, cell phone and navigational charts when he left Rudee Inlet October 23. His family lost contact with him near the Outer Banks of North Carolina on October 24.
USCG Mid-Atlantic launched an extensive, 11-day search that involved 15 Coast Guard aircraft, including six Navy SH-60 Seahawk helicopter crews. 12 other Navy vessels searched, including The crews of USS Bainbridge, USS Gonzalez, USS Mason, USS McFaul, USS Leyte Gulf, and USS George H. W. Bush.
Crew members covered a search area of 352,464 square nautical miles. Crews came to help from as far as Cape Cod. The Coast Guard also checked in with more than 295 marinas from Virginia to Florida. The search was suspended Monday night.
“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.”
Anyone with new information in this case should contact the Coast Guard 5th District command center at 757-398-6390.
The Coast Guard reminds boaters to equip their vessels with multiple communication devices, especially a fixed VHF-FM marine radio. They also recommend emergency position indicating radio beacons that are registered with NOAA.
-Meg Walburn Viviano