Coast Guard Ends Search for Louisiana Teen Who Fell Off Cruise Ship

The Coast Guard ended its search Tuesday night for an 18-year-old from Louisiana who fell overboard during a cruise to celebrate his high school graduation.

The Coast Guard said Bruce O'Krepki went over the rails of the Carnival Fantasy on Sunday night into the Gulf of Mexico about 150 miles southwest of Tampa. Boats and aircraft searched an area of nearly 5,300 square miles.

"After an exhaustive search effort to find Bruce O'Krepki, we have made the difficult decision to suspend our active search efforts," Capt. Drew Pearson said in a news release. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends during this difficult time."

O'Krepki graduated with honors from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Hammond, La., where he ran track and played soccer. He was with about 30 classmates and members of their families on the ship. His uncle Rick O'Krepki said the teen's parents were among the chaperones.

The ship had left New Orleans en route to Key West.

Bruce O'Krepki was one of 65 seniors who graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas on May 9 and planned to attend Louisiana State University on an academic scholarship, his uncle said.

"Just like any recent grad, he was excited about starting college," Rick O'Krepki said. "But he was also a bit sad that he wouldn't be seeing his friends from school every day anymore."

A message left for Rick O'Krepki after the search was called off was not immediately returned.

The teen's older brother is a freshman at LSU. A younger brother is a rising high school senior, and younger sister will be junior.

Bruce O'Krepki's soccer coach John Cox described the teen as someone who was connected to the community and his family.

"It's a huge burden for the community," Cox said.