When Joseph Johnson left Federal Point Yacht Club in Carolina Beach in late November 2021 on his fishing boat, he was wearing shorts and a sweatshirt.
His attire was fitting for the 70-degree day of fishing ahead of him, and even as the sun went down and the day reached its low temperature of 47 degrees, he likely remained comfortable enough.
In the next few days, however, temperatures fell below freezing, and Johnson hadn’t returned home.
In June, Johnson’s boat washed ashore on the small island of São Jorge, roughly 2,700 miles across the ocean, and he was not on it. São Jorge is located in the Azores archipelago in the Mid-Atlantic near the coast of Portugal.
Johnson, 44, was seen leaving Federal Point on Nov. 22, 2021. Stan Cook, a friend of Johnson’s, reported him missing five days later when he wasn’t back for a prearranged fishing trip.
The U.S. Coast Guard conducted a search for Johnson using five vessels and covering nearly 7,500 square miles over 53 hours. The search was suspended when no new information was found.
‘We know he’s alive’:Mother of missing Carolina Beach boater hopeful 7 months later
Johnson is a Carolina Beach resident and retired U.S. Army Special Forces soldier who served for 24 years with tours in Afghanistan and South America.
When Cook first met him around 2007, Johnson was an instructor at a Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training program at Fort Bragg. SERE prepares U.S. military personnel and others with the most cutting edge survival skills.
“Based on his training and experience, he could have survived for a while,” Cook said.
Cook and Johnson both docked their vessels at Federal Point. Over the years, Cook said, he’s become familiar with Johnson’s 2006 Clearwater fishing boat and the larger boat on which he lived.
Cook said Johnson had owned his fishing boat for several years and went fishing several times a week.
Cook said, at least historically, Johnson had a white Igloo cooler he generally kept stocked with water, some food and life jackets aboard. It’s likely, Cook said, that Johnson also had some first aid supplies.
Cook added he knew what Johnson didn’t have on his vessel: a radio.
Tom Aberle, a neighbor of Johnson’s at Federal Point, said Johnson recently bought a small handheld radio — finally listening to the warnings of his friends and neighbors. Aberle, who also has a boat docked at Federal Point, said small radios like that would have reached maybe eight or 10 miles offshore.
Johnson had a life raft on his fishing boat at one point, but Aberle recalled he’d lost it the weekend before he was last seen. Johnson owned a cold-water survival suit, but Cook said it was found on his larger boat at Federal Point after Johnson was reported missing.
“It’s a tragic event,” Cook said.
Cook has been sea fishing for more than two decades. In that time, he said, he’s never gone offshore alone.
“If I go offshore, somebody knows where I’m going and when I’m coming back,” Cook said. “And someone’s with me.”
“There’s a saying in SERE school: ‘Two is one, one is none,’” Cook said. “If you’ve got two people and one of you goes down, there’s another one there to help get back.”
At Federal Point, the community of fishermen is tightly knit.
“I’ve had engine trouble and not come back until 2 o’clock in the morning and there’s 20 people waiting on me,” Cook said.
Cook said some of the neighbors were worried about Johnson earlier in the week, but many were heading out of town for the Thanksgiving holiday — plus it wasn’t unusual for Johnson to go fishing for the day without filling anyone in.
Proper procedure, Cook said, is for boaters to file a float plan with the U.S. Coast Guard before setting sail. Float plans contain information about the vessel and outlines where a boater is heading, when they plan to return and who is on board.
Johnson was likely headed to Frying Pan Tower – a Coast Guard Lighthouse located 32 miles offshore near Frying Pan Shoals, where he frequently fished. Carolina Beach police said Johnson’s phone last pinged off the coast of Bald Head Island at 5:17 p.m. on Nov. 22.
The Carolina Beach Police Department described Johnson as a 6-foot-2, 220-pound white male with strawberry blonde hair. Anyone with information regarding Johnson’s whereabouts is asked to contact 911 or the department directly at 910-458-2540.
Jamey Cross is the public safety reporter at the StarNews. Reach her at email@example.com or message her on Twitter @jameybcross.
Read More:Missing Carolina Beach boater likely had some survival gear aboard