We were summoned to the US Coast Guard Headquarters here in Boston at 6.30pm last night. Captain Anthony Popeil, who has been leading the search and coordinating the military and civilian assets in the mid-Atlantic, was to make a statement. It seemed inevitable that he would be announcing the suspension of the search operation.
With no sign of a life raft or of debris, and with nearly 20,000 square miles having been searched, the chances of the four sailors being alive were truly remote. But in a final gesture to the families of the missing men, the Coast Guard commander agreed that search operations would continue for another 24 hours.
The mission would officially end at 10pm Friday night East Coast time (midnight in the search zone; 3am Saturday in the UK). Popiel made the announcement with a heavy heart, having spoken to the families of the four sailors and the British consul in Boston. This is the second time the US Coast Guard has announced the end of search operations.
This time nobody can say the Americans haven't tried their utmost. As Popiel put it earlier in the week, "We are conducting the search as if we are looking for a member of our own families."
Perhaps this will bring some small comfort to the family members of the lost men.
The fate of the four sailors touched a nation, ignited a remarkable social media campaign, triggered a diplomatic request to the US Coast Guard to relaunch the search, and made us all pray for a survival story. And even now, there are a few more hours left for a miracle to unfold before the search teams head back to their harbours and airfields.