(CNN) — In its hunt for a missing family off the coast of southwest Florida, the Coast Guard found a bucket Thursday containing personal items; it was located about 5 miles from the location where rescuers found a body in a life jacket the day before.
The bucket, which was located about 8:15 a.m., contained birth certificates, a GPS, wallet, cigarettes, mobile phone, pool noodle and toolbox, Capt. Gregory Case said.
The find came hours after a Coast Guard helicopter and response boat both reported seeing what crews thought was a flare rising into the air for about 3 seconds. That was around 2:30 a.m., he said.
“We have been covering that area since last night,” Case said, noting that many things, including airplane lights and reflections, can be mistaken for flares, but rescue crews are treating the sighting as if it were a flare.
Coast Guard rescue crews have covered roughly 23,000 miles in their search for the missing family, but the time that has passed since they went missing and the expansive area in which they vanished complicate the search, he said.
“It’s tough,” Case said. “We want to get out there and save them.”
Missing since Sunday
The family, which had been living on the 29-foot sailboat in Sarasota for about a year, was sailing to Fort Myers on Sunday afternoon when they encountered a thunderstorm and rough seas.
The boat, which was equipped with an outboard motor, was “not in the best of shape,” and the family was sailing to Fort Myers to work on the sailboat, Case said.
When the storm hit, the father, Ace Kimberly, 45, called his brother and asked him to send some weather reports. Kimberly reported 6-foot seas off the coastline of Englewood, about 30 miles south of Sarasota, a Coast Guard statement said.
“And that’s the last they heard of him,” Case said.
The Coast Guard received no distress call from the vessel, he said.
He described Kimberly’s brothers and wife as frightened but hopeful.
“They are terrified, as you can imagine. They’re all feeling what we’re all feeling — anxious, upset and hoping for the best,” he said. “We are doing everything we can and throwing everything we can at this search at this time.”
The brother reported Kimberly and his children — Roger, 13, Donny, 15, and Becky, 17 — missing Tuesday. The Coast Guard tracked the voyage, which is about 75 miles via land, and by midmorning Wednesday, an airplane crew discovered a debris field after completing eight search patterns.
It was found about 38 miles off Sanibel Island, which sits a few miles off of Fort Myers’ coast.
The debris field included water jugs, a tarp, tennis shoes, a basketball and a propane tank, Case said. Rescuers also found six life jackets that they believe were among the seven flotation devices the family had on board.
“These items did indeed correlate to his brother’s vessel,” he said, calling it a “dire finding.”
Rescuers also found two kayaks that the family had been towing behind its sailboat found a body wearing a personal floatation device in the search area. It was not immediately clear if it was one of the family members, and though it was transported to local authorities for identification, Case declined to provide reporters an identity Thursday morning.