Missing Florida teens: Boat found off Bermuda coast
(CNN) — A marine supply store sticker and engine serial number helped authorities identify the boat of two Florida teens who went missing at sea last summer.
The discovery of the single-engine vessel on which Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, both 14, got lost at sea during a burst of severe weather on July 24 was confirmed Saturday by the U.S. Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The 19-foot Seacraft vessel was found March 18 by the Norwegian multipurpose supply ship Edda Fjord about 100 miles off the coast of Bermuda, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Ryan Doss said in a statement. There was no immediate indication of what happened to the missing boys.
The boat, which was floating in the shipping lane, was removed from the water by the crew of Norwegian ship, which was returning to Norway, according to Doss. Personal items including a cell phone and plastic tackle boxes were found on board.
The marine store sticker and engine serial number helped identify the owner, Doss said.
“The boat was subsequently confirmed to be the boat that belonged to Austin Stephanos,” Rob Klepper, a spokesman for the law enforcement division of the fish and wildlife conservation commission, said in a statement.
The families of the two boys have been notified, Klepper said. The boat is expected to arrive by shipping container to the United States from Norway on May 16.
“The personal effects that were onboard the boat will be returned to the families of the victims, and subsequent information retrieval efforts from any of those items will be at their discretion,” Klepper said. “The (fish and wildlife commission) will examine the vessel for any new information, and return the boat to the family.”
On the Facebook page of the Perry J. Cohen Foundation, Perry’s mother, Pamela Cohen, and stepfather, Nick Korniloff, thanked the captain and 16-member crew of the Edda Fjord for “recovering and salvaging the Vessel in which our son and his dear friend disappeared on.”
“The actions of yourself, crew and company will hopefully provide more details for us with the hopes of finding out what exactly happened to our son and his friend,” they wrote in the Saturday post, which included a photo of what appeared to be the Norwegian ship lifting the teens’ boat out of the water.
In an earlier post, the family said, “This is an open Missing Persons case, and we hope that FWC reopens their investigation and utilizes the expert resources of other government agencies as well as the private sector if necessary to extrapolate the data from the recovered IPhone (found on the boat).”
The foundation was created after the teens went missing to promote boater safety and education for young people.
Days after the boys went missing, searchers located the boat dozens of miles off Florida’s Atlantic coast, well north of Jupiter, the community the pair left days earlier.
The Coast Guard attached a data marker buoy to the boat because water was too deep for an anchor, Klepper said via email.
One life jacket was found in the water, but there was no sign of the boys. It’s unknown whether the boys were wearing life jackets.
But the boat had drifted away by the time investigators arrived with salvage equipment to tow it about 67 nautical miles (about 77 miles) off Florida’s Ponce de Leon Inlet.
“The data marker buoy malfunctioned, and the craft was not located again until its retrieval by the Edda Fjord” last month, according to Klepper.
In late July, the Coast Guard said it has done all it could to find the missing teen boaters. Their families, however, said a private search would continue.
The Coast Guard’s week-long search after the boys were reported missing extended from southern Florida to North Carolina, officials said at the time.
The Coast Guard estimated that someone could survive in the warm Atlantic waters for up to five days at that time of year.
Missing after a squall
Austin and Perry left Jupiter on July 24. The Coast Guard said it had information that the boys may have told others through social media that they planned to travel to the Bahamas, but officials and family members say they’re not sure the purpose of the boys’ trip and the destination.
Coast Guard Capt. Mark Fedor said a significant squall hit the area about the time they left — one that that could have disabled or even capsized their boat. The National Weather Service posted special marine warnings, telling boaters to seek shelter about the time they departed.
Later that day, when one of the boys’ grandmothers didn’t hear from them, she reported them missing.
Though the boys are young, they were legally operating the boat. Florida regulations say a person must be at least 14 to operate a watercraft.
Nearly 50,000 square nautical miles searched
Fedor said the search covered an area just under 50,000 square nautical miles, or 66,200 square miles, a space almost the size of the state of Missouri.
People in southeastern Florida rallied around the teens’ relatives during the search. They included football great Joe Namath, a neighbor of the boys’ families. Hundreds of people attended a vigil for the teens at the beach in Stuart, a short distance from Jupiter Inlet.