JACKSONVILLE, Florida — Finding the boat that two Florida teens took fishing was a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, the 14-year-old boys were not with the boat, and remain missing. But on the other hand, knowing the boat’s location is helping crews to recalculate and refocus their searches, said Capt. Mark Fedor, chief of response for the Coast Guard 7th District.
“Our intentions are to continue to search aggressively. As of midnight tonight, we’ll have executed 32 different searches, covering over 27,000 square miles,” he told reporters Monday. “That’s about the size of West Virginia.”
The day-and-night search is focused 60 to 70 miles off Jacksonville, north of where the boys’ capsized boat was found. Fedor said search conditions were good, but the situation is dire.
“People can survive in the water. It’s relatively warm, but — again — it’s a dangerous environment, and there’s only so long you could stay in the water,” he said.
He estimated that a person could survive some 4-5 days under such conditions.
Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos have been missing since Friday.
The boys were last seen near Jupiter buying $110 in gasoline for their boat, Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Steve Lehmann said at a press conference. One Navy ship is assisting in the search.
The teens’ boat was found Sunday, capsized 67 nautical miles (about 77 miles, or 124 kilometers) off Florida’s Ponce de Leon Inlet.
The new search area was based on the location of the boat, using flow models, Lehmann said.
The boys’ families and friends are holding out hope they’ll be found, one of their mothers said Monday morning.
“None of us are giving up hope they’ll find those boys,” Pamela Cohen, the mother of Perry, said on CNN’s “New Day.” “I have 100% faith they’ll find our boys.”
Nick Korniloff, Perry’s stepfather, said both boys were experienced boaters and fishermen. He said the family had rules about where Perry could take a boat without adult supervision.
“We requested when he was out in the water, that he fish the river and Intracoastal (Waterway),” he said Monday on “New Day” “He could go as far as the rocks and inlet.”
Perry was told not to go into the ocean unless he was in a bigger boat and had an adult with him, Korniloff said.
“We have taught them the respect of Mother Nature, the power of the sea,” he said. “They know what the water is all about.”
Football great Joe Namath, a neighbor of the boys’ families, is among the friends supporting them. He also said he’s optimistic.
“The history of the high seas have survival rates over the years,” Namath said. “There have been miracles out there, and we’re planning on finding the children.”
Florida regulations say a person must be at least 14 to operate a watercraft.
Storms may hinder search
The boys left Jupiter in a 19-foot, single-engine center console vessel.
They were reported missing later Friday by one of the boys’ grandmothers when she didn’t hear from them.
A Coast Guard search boat found their boat Sunday morning, Lehmann said, and a helicopter lowered a rescue swimmer to the vessel to confirm its registration number.
One life jacket was found in the water, Lehmann said, but there was no sign of the boys. The Coast Guard anchored the boat at the spot where it was found instead of towing it ashore to avoid diverting resources that could be used in the search, he said.
Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Mark Barney said searchers in aircraft flew over the water throughout Sunday night. Coast Guard searchers are always optimistic they’ll find who they’re looking for, he said.
“It would be very hard for us to do our jobs if we didn’t hold on to some form of hope,” he said.
$100,000 reward offered
The boys’ families are offering a $100,000 reward for their rescue and are asking citizens to help by looking for debris along the beach.
Lehmann said the Coast Guard discouraged volunteers from getting involved in the search itself because they could hinder the guard’s activities.
The discovery of the capsized boat, he said, means the missing teens could be in a more serious situation than officials feared.
“It’s one thing for the boys to be missing inside the vessel, and it’s another thing for them to be missing in open water. … Now they’re in an even worse situation if they are to be in the water right now,” he said.
And spotting people in the water isn’t easy, Lehmann said Sunday.
“It can be very tricky, especially searching from the air. It’s a needle in a haystack out there,” he said, “and that’s one of the reasons life jackets are orange, so it gives us better visibility in cases like this.”
It’s unknown whether the boys are wearing life jackets, he said.
Community prays for 2 youths
People packed the bleachers at Jupiter Christian School on Sunday evening, their heads bowed in prayer for the boys’ safe return.
Michael Dube, the upper school principal, called for parents to pray for the missing boys as if they were their own children.
“We pray that Austin and Perry will be found safe,” he said, “that they will be returned home to their moms and their dads, that will hug them and kiss them and love them.”