TEQUESTA, Fla.—Two teens whose lives were intertwined with the sea remained lost in the Atlantic on Tuesday, as their families and authorities tried to maintain hope against the fading odds of their survival.
The Coast Guard pressed ahead with a fifth day of searches for the boys while their families coordinated air searches of their own, insistent that Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos were competent seamen and athletic young men who still could be found alive. But the relentless hunt by sea and air turned up no clue where the 14-year-olds might have drifted from their capsized boat, and the potential for finding them alive dimmed.
“As time goes on, certainly the probability of finding someone alive does decrease, but we’re still within the timeframe where it’s definitely possible to find somebody alive,” said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Ryan Doss, noting others have survived days or even a week at sea. “We know it can happen and we’re hoping it happens again.”
The boys grew up on the water, constantly boated and fished, worked at a tackle shop together and immersed themselves in a life on the ocean. Perry’s family said he learned to swim before he took his first steps. And though some questioned why the boys were out boating alone, others defended their families and said such independent teen outings are commonplace among those with a passion for the water.
Clive Botha, a neighbor and friend of Perry’s family, said his own children took a boat out alone as teens and cruised local waterways, even as he forbade them from the deep ocean waters.
“We always told our kids to not go out of the inlet, but kids will be kids, you know?” he said. “I get goosebumps. In my heart, they could have been my kids.”
Perry’s stepfather, Nick Korniloff, said his stepson was supposed to remain on the Loxahatchee River and the Intracoastal Waterway during the outing with his friend, as they had numerous times before. Although they clearly ended up in the ocean waters, Korniloff said he didn’t believe the boys were heading to the Bahamas, as some have speculated.
“It’s a bit of a surprise to see, for us, that they went offshore,” Korniloff said.
The saga began Friday, when the boys were spotted buying fuel around 1:30 p.m. A line of summer storms moved through the area later that afternoon and when the teens didn’t return on time, the Coast Guard was alerted at 5 p.m. and launched its search. The 19-foot boat was found overturned on Sunday off Ponce Inlet, more than 180 miles north of where the boys started their journey. The search has continued, day and night.
Why the boys ended up in the Atlantic is irrelevant at this point, Korniloff said, focusing on the years of experience they had on the water that could keep them alive.
“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.”
At JIB Yacht Club and Marina, where the boys were last reported seen, 14-year-old Caden Key from neighboring Jupiter maneuvered his jet ski Tuesday afternoon to fuel up before an Intracoastal outing with his friend, 14-year-old Katie Kleinman. Both teens knew the missing boys and their love for boating. Neither was surprised to hear of their solo journey.
“A lot of kids here have grown up around the water and have always been on boats, so you get familiar with the area and you know the waters and you feel confident going out,” Caden said.
The Coast Guard said three boats and an airplane were scouring the waters off Daytona Beach, Florida, north through Savannah, Georgia, and were joined by a Navy ship and other local officials’ boats. The families pledged a $100,000 reward in the search and numerous friends and strangers took to planes searching for clues, though the Coast Guard discouraged such private searches. A sighting of an object off the Georgia coast prompted a brief flurry of interest, but it was found to be unconnected to the teens.
Though the boys’ boat was overturned it did not appear damaged. One life jacket was found near the boat. It was unclear how many life jackets had been on board, nor was it known what other supplies they had.
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.