Virginia Firefighter Missing After Fishing Trip; Father's Hope Dwindling

PORTSMOUTH At heart, Brad Coles was a fisherman and a firefighter.

The 24-year-old Portsmouth native had loved the water since he was a child and was a strong swimmer. But it's the water that may have claimed his life.

By Wednesday afternoon, George Coles held out small hope that his son would be found alive.

Brad Coles went fishing early Tuesday morning with three friends, including another firefighter who owned the boat.

They were more than 35 miles off North Carolina?s Oregon Inlet, when Coles apparently became ill and went to the back of the boat.

It's unclear what happened next, only that Coles vanished.

The Coast Guard called off its search Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, George Coles said he was hoping for at least the news that his son's body had been recovered. He said he understood that the boat was moving slowly at the time and that the water was not rough.

They were at the front of the boat baiting, and they looked back there and Brad was gone, he said.

He doesn't know if his son fell over while hanging over the side to be sick or if he passed out or hit his head on something.

He said his son had suffered some ongoing problems with stomach queasiness.

Coles said his son's friends immediately started looking for him. Coast Guard helicopters and rescue boats, along with about three dozen pleasure boaters who heard the call, searched, too.

They found his son's shoes, he said. So they were sure they were looking in the right area.?

Dick Harris, captain and owner of the charter fishing boat Fintastic, said he was just south of the pleasure craft Wild Man when he heard on the radio that someone had fallen overboard.

There were 15 of us right there, and we combed through the area, Harris said, adding that one captain offered a prayer over the radio while they searched. We were hoping we'd find him.?

Coles said his son loved the outdoors. A neighbor had taken him out on his boat when he was a boy. After that, his son spent every weekend on the water either boating, fishing or skiing.

He joined the Portsmouth Fire Department two years ago. He was not married and was living with his parents in Cradock while he saved money, his father said.

At first, he was saving to buy a house.

Then he decided he wanted to invest in the equipment to operate his own lawn-care business on the side. He had been helping other firefighters cut lawns on his days off.

One of the first things he bought with his extra money was a Ford Mustang Cobra, George Coles said. That was his pride and joy.

Coles said his son had played sports all his life and had also worked with junior high and high school youth at Western Branch Baptist Church.

Before joining the fire department, he worked as an electrician and then on a harbor tug boat for a year.

He loved being a firefighter, Coles said. That' about all he talked about when he came home.

The battalion chief and other firefighters hovered around George Coles and his wife, Retta, during their long vigil.

Coles said he was concerned for the young firefighter who was with his son on the boat.

That kid is devastated, he said. And Brad wouldn't ant him to feel responsible for it. And I don't want him to feel responsible. He was Brad's best friend.

Deputy Fire Chief Newell Whitehead said he met with the firefighters on Coles shift at Station No. 7. Earlier, the squad members had put the gear of their missing comrade in front of the station on Airline Boulevard.

But none of the firefighters wanted to talk to the media, Whitehead said. Firefighters, he said, are a close bunch.

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