PORT SHELDON, Mich. — The family of two boaters who went missing on Lake Michigan more than a week ago are now turning to volunteer divers for help in the search after the U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search late Thursday.
The men, Chris Thode, 25, and Aaron Juarez, 40, of Wyoming, were last heard from on Sept. 25 when they left for a fishing trip. It is believed that they launched from Port Sheldon, Michigan, into Pigeon Lake, which connects to Lake Michigan. The two left aboard a 16-foot white and blue boat.
Relatives of Juarez have confirmed to FOX 17 they have teamed up with a non-profit company, Bruce's Legacy based out of Wisconsin, which is helping by doing sonar searches out in the area where it's believed the men were last seen.
The two were reported missing on Wednesday, Sept. 30, and that's when the Coast Guard started its search. Juarez's SUV and boat trailer are still at the boat launch.
"Since receiving the notification of the missing boaters, the Coast Guard had conducted 23 searches, covering a total of nearly 3,800 square miles of Lake Michigan," an official with the Grand Haven Coast Guard told FOX 17 on Thursday.
Bruce's Legacy, a 501-C non-profit, will use sonar technology as well as remotely controlled underwater rovers to try to locate the two men and two dogs that accompanied them on the trip.
While the Coast Guard has suspended its search, they are still receiving tip calls and actively following up on leads. The Ottawa County Sheriff's Department is also monitoring the coast for any sign that may point to the fate of the boaters.
"I came into this thinking, I'm going to be a hero," Renee Palermo, Juarez's sister, told FOX 17 last week. "I'm going to charter a flight. I'm going to find my brother, but we can't do what law enforcement and Coast Guard has done here."
The family on Thursday commended the Coast Guard and all law enforcement agencies involved for their efforts. They've also set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds in hopes of covering the travel and fuel expenses incurred by the volunteer searchers, as well as for memorial services, if needed.
Anyone with information that may aid in this search is asked to contact the Sector Lake Michigan Command Center at 414-747-7190.
Anyone wanting to lend their boat or time to the search should reach out directly to Keith Cormican, founder of Bruce's Legacy, at 715-896-0726.