After covering more than 1,500 square miles, the Coast Guard has suspended its search for two young men missing near the Pass-a-Grille channel entrance since Tuesday.
Jie Luo, an international student from Colorado State University, disappeared in the gulf Tuesday evening. He and 14 classmates had chartered a 71-foot yacht for spring break.
Luo went swimming in the choppy water with four other students. The current pulled the students from the boat, and all but Luo were able to make it back to the boat.
Andrew Dillman, a crew member aboard the yacht, jumped in to rescue Luo, but he too, was not able to make it back to the boat.
Authorities believe both Dillman, 27, and Luo, 21, were swept away in the rough waters and strong current. Both are still missing.
Although the search was suspended, the Coast Guard is still investigating the situation surrounding their disappearance, and whether the charter was certified to hold so many people.
"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.