WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Two teens missing at sea had strayed from the agreed-upon boundaries for their fishing trip, the stepfather of one of the boys said Tuesday, as the Coast Guard continued a massive search off Florida’s Atlantic coast.
Nick Korniloff said his 14-year-old stepson Perry Cohen and the boy’s friend Austin Stephanos were supposed to remain on the Loxahatchee River and the Intracoastal Waterway during their outing Friday. He said he didn’t believe the boys were heading to the Bahamas, as some have speculated, but that they obviously ended up in the deep waters they were supposed to steer clear of.
“It’s a bit of a surprise to see, for us, that they went offshore,” Korniloff said.
At this point though, after four days of searches for the boys, the stepfather said why the boys ended up in the Atlantic is irrelevant, and he’s focusing on the years of experience they had on the water that could keep them alive. His stepson, he said, learned to swim before he walked, and spent every opportunity he could boating, fishing, snorkeling and otherwise enjoying the ocean.
“We have a huge amount of confidence and I think that’s a testament to why the Coast Guard is working so hard,” Korniloff said. “They’re doing that because the boys have all the ingredients that could lead to a big success here.”
The boys were last seen Friday afternoon buying $110 worth of fuel near Jupiter. Thunderstorms and heavy rains were forecast in the Jupiter area later Friday afternoon. However, Coast Guard Capt. Mark Fedor called it “typical South Florida weather” that didn’t provide an immediate answer to what happened to the teens.
The Coast Guard was alerted at 5 p.m. that the boys were overdue, and the search began. The 19-foot boat was found Sunday, capsized, off Ponce Inlet, more than 180 miles north of where the boys started their journey. The search has continued, day and night, with areas of concentration moving based on the Gulf Stream and ocean conditions.
The search area has steadily moved north, with crews focused on a swath of water from Daytona Beach, Florida, up through Savannah, Georgia. By Tuesday morning, the Coast Guard had scoured an area the size of West Virginia.
“We’re still actively searching, still doing what we can to find these two,” Chief Petty Officer Ryan Doss said, noting three Coast Guard cutters, a Navy ship and a plane were deployed Tuesday in the search.
The teens’ families pledged a $100,000 reward in the search and a famous neighbor – NFL Hall of Famer Joe Namath – promised to continue searching local beaches in hopes of finding clues.
Though the boys’ boat was overturned it did not appear damaged. No foul play was suspected. One life jacket was found near the boat, though it was unclear how many life jackets had been on board.
Water temperatures were warm and not cited as a factor in the boys’ survival.
Florida requires minors to have boating safety instruction in order to operate a boat of 10 horsepower or greater, but no licenses are issued. Korniloff said both boys had completed the course.