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Coast Guard suspends search for 2 missing men near Pass-a-Grille

Posted at 6:42 PM, Mar 16, 2017

UPDATE (7:50 PM): 

The Coast Guard suspended its search Thursday at 7:41 p.m. for the two men missing near the Pass-a-Grille channel entrance since Tuesday.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Jie Luo and Andrew Dillman," said Capt. Holly Najarian, Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg commander. "Suspending a search is the most difficult decision I have to make in my position, and despite our best efforts, we were unable to reunite Andrew and Jie with their families."

Crews from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, Coast Guard Station St. Petersburg, Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission conducted 39 searches totaling 80 aircraft and surface hours and covering more than 1,577 square miles – an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.

The incident is currently under investigation.

ORIGINAL STORY:

It's been more than a day since a foreign exchange student on spring break and the man who tried to rescue him got lost in the choppy Gulf.

RELATED: Crews search for 2 men in Pass-A-Grille Channel

On Thursday the Coast Guard and Pinellas Co. Sheriff's office continued in their search over more than 400 miles of water near where the two men were last seen.

Investigators say 21-year-old Jie Lou and 14 other students from Colorado State University rented services for a yacht to head to the Gulf Tuesday afternoon.

Five of the students, including Lou, got in the water and all made it back to the boat except for Lou.

RELATED: Coast Guard Documents: Charter boat that lost boaters had too many people on board

That's when investigators say 27-year-old Andrew Dillman jumped in to try and save Lou, but both were swept away by the rough current.

A group of students from Eckerd College's search and rescue team helped with search efforts on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"As we started staying out there for a longer period of time the waves and the wind started to deteriorate and they started to get bigger quicker, faster," said Tanner McNulte, who helped with the search.

The winds were much calmer on Thursday, but Ryan Dilke says that still presents challenges for searchers.

"With this many days in a row with choppy water it still makes for low visibility in the water," he said.

Their team is now on stand-by and ready and willing to continue helping with the search as soon as the Coast Guard asks for more help.

"It's interesting," said McNulte, "because we are on so many cases, but we do feel I guess in a way connected to them because we want there to be a good outcome." 

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