Coast Guard continues search for teens lost at sea

Massive search and rescue mission ongoing off Florida coast

(US Coast Guard)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The U.S. Coast Guard has widened its search for the two 14-year-old boys lost at sea to Charleston, South Carolina.

Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos were supposed to go fishing Friday in the safety of the Jupiter Inlet off Palm Beach County. But they may have ran into a thunderstorm after posting on Snapchat that they were going to the Bahamas. 

Coast Guard officials said on Tuesday evening that the crews have covered nearly 31,000 square nautical miles in the search for the boys, spanning from Jupiter, Florida to Charleston, South Carolina.

"We continue to search for the missing boys," said Capt. Mark Fedor, chief of response for the Coast Guard 7th district, in a release. "We're constantly reevaluating the situation to determine our next course of action, however as each hour goes by, the situation becomes dire."

Fedor said Monday afternoon that the boys could probably survive four to five days at the current temperature.

"Basically your body will reduce your temperature depending on the water temperature, so it's the water temperature you really have to worry about," said Volusia County Beach Safety Captain Tammy Marris. "If you're in the water a long period of time, hours and hours, there's more of a chance to get hypothermia."

The rescue team -- which includes the U.S. Navy and Customs and Border Protection -- was "aggressively" searching for them, but they faced challenges, said Fedor.

The Coast Guard 7th District chief of enforcement also said that "when a person is in the water, you are basically looking for the chest up, so it's a relatively small object you're looking for." Coast Guard

Lt. Commander Gabe Somma added that there was "an awfully strong current." 

"Oh it's nothing like a pool, nothing at all like a pool, zero visibility," said Richard Osburn, a commercial shark fisherman based in Port Orange. "It goes from glass calm to scary rough in the blink of an eye. And half the time you don't see it coming. And not to mention what we catch, what we catch lives out there too. These poor kids are floating around out there and there are sharks everywhere."

"I have a 13-year-old and a 14-year-old son at home, so this resonates obviously with me," Fedor said. "And I can empathize with the families that are involved."

The boys' families were optimistic. Perry's stepfather, Nick Korniloss, said the boys are strong swimmers, avid boaters and survivors. Austin's aunt, Norieta Stephanos, said he is resilient and fearless.

They were asking the public for help.

"Anyone that is located near the beaches from Jupiter, Florida, up the coast to the beaches of Georgia, please go out and walk your beaches," Perry's mom Pamela Cohen said on Instagram Monday.

They hoped debris could serve as clues.

Osburn, the commercial fisherman, said if the boys were wearing orange life vests and holding onto a cooler, as their families believe, they would be highly visible.

"You see a beach ball floating a mile away so you can be seen," said Osburn. "It's not a matter of they gotta be right on top of you to see you. We see balloons that cruise ships let go. It is easy to see something if you're actively looking."

On Sunday night, about 200 met to pray for a miracle at the gym of the Jupiter Christian School, where Austin was expected to go to school in the fall.

The boys' capsized 19-foot single-engine center console vessel turned up Sunday. The powerful Gulf Stream current pushed it north about 67 nautical miles off the Ponce de Leon Inlet in Volusia County.

There was one life jacket in the hull. Fedor said they weren't sure how many were in the boat to begin with.

"We are hopeful that they both have life jackets," Fedor said.

Since the engine cover and a white Yeti cooler were also missing from the vessel, relatives believe the boys could be using them to stay alive.

"We believe the boys made floating devices with the items missing from the boat," a family flier said. The image was circulating on social media under the hashtag "Find Austin and Perry."

A commercial fisherman and the manager of Jib Yacht Club and Marina worried they may have been the last to see the boys. Joey Krizka told The Palm Beach Post reported that they only had $109 to pay for the $122 bill, which included 28 gallons of gas. Krizka told them they could pay him later because he saw them regularly.

Jim Dulin said he is a commercial fisherman with 20 years of experience. He said that he was heading toward the Jupiter Inlet Friday afternoon to turn away from a thunderstorm, when he saw two "crazy" kids going toward it.

"The storm was really black," Dulin said. "The temperature dropped and you could tell it was going to be a really mean one."

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