By Connie Leinbach
James Weekley and his friends are doing whatever it takes to find some resolution to the whereabouts of his niece, Savannah Grant, 27, who went missing in a boating accident Saturday off Portsmouth Island.
Weekley is a brother of the missing woman’s mother, Tonya Weekley. He, along with close friends D.J. Taft and Debbie Costello, all of Grafton, West Virginia, arrived on Ocracoke Island on Tuesday after the U.S. Coast Guard ceased its searching on Monday.
A Coast Guard spokeswoman said North Carolina Fish & Wildlife has jurisdiction because this is considered a boating accident.
According to the three, Grant was on Ocracoke with Jason Quickle, her boyfriend, and John Pearson. The three had been camping on Portsmouth and left sometime Saturday to come back to Ocracoke. That was the same day the National Weather Service issued warnings about a low-pressure system off the coast that was forecast to bring strong, possible gale-force, winds, with wind gusts of 45+ mph, across the Outer Banks.
Ernie Doshier, Ocracoke’s assistant fire chief and captain of the “Gecko” sport fishing boat, said he and Deputy Sheriff Blackburn Warner, after hearing the 911 call, took Doshier’s boat and got into the inlet about 20 minutes before the Coast Guard.
When the Coast Guard got there, the light was low, he said.
“The rain squalls were coming through there and you couldn’t see nothing,” Doshier said. “The tide was rolling out of there. It took them to the ocean. There’s no doubt about that because that’s where they found ‘em,” Doshier said about the two male survivors.
A Coast Guard press release on Monday said they found a conscious male survivor (Jason Quickle) alongside a green canoe approximately 2.8 miles offshore of Drum Inlet at approximately 9:54 a.m. on Sunday.
Quickle was hoisted into the aircraft and transported to Carteret Hospital in Morehead City, Carteret County. He was released on Tuesday, according to Weekley.
A second survivor, John Pearson, who made the 911 call, was found ashore on Great Island on the Cape Lookout National Seashore by a good Samaritan, at which point he reported swimming to shore and had last seen Savannah in the early morning hours of Sunday, the Coast Guard said.
Weekley, Taft and Costello are one of two groups searching for Grant. Weekley said on Friday that they are seeking help from anyone who could possibly help locate the missing woman – any agency or volunteer groups, those with tracking dogs or whatever that could aid in the search along Portsmouth, Cedar Island and Great Island on the Cape Lookout National Seashore.
Weekly and Costello try not to break down as they talk about Savannah, who has cystic fibrosis, and her possible fate.
But the trio won’t take no for an answer, Taft said.
“As long as it takes to find some closure, we’ll be here,” Weekley said. “We probably won’t stop even after we get home. We’re gonna continue to get answers.”
Taft has 15 years of experience as an emergency responder.
“I’ve never come back empty handed without some closure for a family,” he said.
Part of that closure will be to piece together what really happened since the three have gotten conflicting stories about various aspects of the incident.
To help cover costs, Weekley’s sister, Rachel, set up a GoFundMe page at Bring Savannah Home.
Donald Austin took the group to Portsmouth on Tuesday where they canvased the beach.
On Thursday, a Marine pilot took Weekley and Taft up in a Cessna and searched Portsmouth Island for four hours, Weekley said. They went almost to Jacksonville.
On Friday, they were hoping the Civil Air Patrol can help.
“We’ve contacted someone with drones,” Weekley said. The trio also will get flyers made with Savannah’s photo.
A few locals with airplanes have been searching, Weekley said, and an off-island homeowner has donated the use of her island home for the group to stay in, Costello said.
Weekley said islanders have been very concerned and helpful.
“Everybody’s just been outstanding down here,” he said.