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Coast Guard suspends search for Seacor Power crew, volunteer diver weighs in on recovery efforts

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GRAND ISLE - The U.S. Coast Guard announced Monday it will suspend the search for the remaining eight members of the Seacor Power crew who are still missing in the Gulf of Mexico.

The announcement comes a day after officials confirmed a fifth crew member from the capsized lift boat was found dead. Eight people remained unaccounted for.

“We extend our appreciation to everyone who volunteered to assist during the search effort. Suspending a search is one of the toughest decisions the Coast Guard has to make,” said Capt. Will Watson, commander of Coast Guard Sector New Orleans. “Our crews searched continuously over the past six days with the hope of bringing the missing crewmembers home to their loved ones. I would like to extend my deepest and most sincere condolences to the families, friends and loved ones--all those impacted by this terrible tragedy. I know that this is an immensely difficult time for you all, and for the entire maritime community.”

This followed the recovery of two unresponsive crew members on Friday night.  The two were identified as Anthony Hartford, 53, of New Orleans, and James Wallingsford, 55, of Gilbert, a small community northeast of Alexandria and southeast of Monroe.

Eight people from the 19-person crew are still missing. Six were rescued shortly after the boat capsized Tuesday.

The U.S. Coast Guard said a crew member was found dead Wednesday. He was identified as David Ledet, 63, a captain from Thibodaux.

Another body was recovered Thursday night, about 33 miles from the boat. The Lafourche Parish coroner identified that person as 69-year-old Ernest Williams of Arnaudville. 

The Coast Guard says the last time it made radio contact with crew members was late Tuesday night when officials spoke to two workers who were still inside of the vessel after it flipped over.

It's a daunting, huge undertaking," said Mark Michaud, volunteer search and rescue diver.

Michaud's worked on similar operations before and says a lack of visibility in a rescue like this is very challenging.

"It's the balance of safety and the job you have to get done, which is inherently dangerous because we can't breathe water and they're working in that," said Michaud.

The CEO of Seacor Marine Holdings, John Gellert, said 17 divers are still contracted out to look for the missing eight mariners. Those divers have gotten halfway through the boat so far. Michaud said this task isn't easy either.

"Imagine a motor home that goes into the water; everything that is in there is floating so you have to go through blankets, extension cords, anything. There's a lot to sort and move through," said Michaud.

The National Transport Safety Board will investigate why the lift boat capsized. That investigation will include looking into the people involved, the equipment on the vessel and the conditions during the accident.

This investigation could take up to two years to complete.

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