For the family, friends and patients of Dr. Dell Weible, the New Year is starting with agony: They fear he is dead, pray he is alive and wonder when the mystery of his disappearance will be unraveled.
Weible, an obstetrician who has been delivering babies in Clearwater for 15 years, has been missing in the Gulf of Mexico since New Year's Eve.
The Coast Guard found his 23-foot Mako 20 miles southwest of Clearwater Pass three hours after his brother reported him missing early Thursday afternoon.
But Weible was not on board, and after more than a day of looking for him, the Coast Guard called off its search Friday evening.
"I don't think it looks very good right now," said Dr. David Peterfreund, who is in private practice with Weible at Bay Area Women's Care on Fort Harrison Avenue in Clearwater.
Weible, a father and marathon runner, began seeing patients in Clearwater in 1983, Peterfreund said. In 1989, his colleagues named him chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Morton Plant Hospital, a one-year honor.
"We're a five-doctor group," Peterfreund said of their office. "And everyone is quite upset about this whole thing, including the staff. He was very well-respected medically and just a straightforward and honest individual."
Weible's family could not be reached for comment. His brother, Kent Weible, is a former Belleair mayor. Their mother, Cheryl Weible, served on the Town Commission.
Weible has two sons with Debra Weible, a Clearwater ophthalmologist who helped organize the Old Clearwater Bay Neighborhood Association.
To Kristal Chastain, Weible is the gentle, patient doctor who delivered her daughter. Chastain drives from New Port Richey to see Weible, her doctor of 14 years.
"He's just a super guy," Chastain said. "He'd answer any question you had. He never put you off like he was in a hurry."
What happened to Weible is a mystery.
He set out for sea Wednesday evening, Coast Guard spokesman Harry Craft said. His brother reported him missing at 1:35 p.m. Thursday after Weible failed to show for an appointment.
His diving gear is missing, and the Coast Guard thinks he could have been on a diving expedition when he disappeared. But searchers found no equipment, nothing to indicate there had been a diving accident.
The seas were not unusually rough when he left Belleair, Craft said.
"The guy could have just fallen overboard for all we know," Craft said.
The search spanned 1,500 square miles. Crews used seven different search patterns, looking by sea and air, day and night, for the doctor who once ran in the Boston Marathon.
They stopped searching, Craft said, because they didn't find anything, "not even a flotation device," to keep them going.