A pilot involved briefly in the search for the two Florida boys who disappeared last year while they were fishing has released a photo of what he claims is one of the teens.
Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, both 14, never came back from a fishing trip on July 24, 2015. The boat belonging to the boys, containing Austin’s iPhone and other items, was discovered about 100 miles off the coast of Bermuda. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released their findings a few days ago, including a lengthy report detailing an investigation into the boys’ disappearance.
Bobby Smith of MidCoast Aviation Services said that he’s certain he saw one of the boys floating on debris with his hands in the air about 25 miles from the Florida-Georgia line, reported the Orlando Sentinel on Friday.
He thinks he saw one of the boys about two days after they had gone missing. A massive search was launched for the two, but nothing came of it.
Smith told the paper that he radioed for help but lost sight of the boy and wasn’t able to see the debris after that. A Coast Guard search in the area couldn’t verify what he saw.
Smith’s account was detailed in the lengthy report released by Florida officials.
“It was obvious it was a person lying on their back,” Smith said in a phone interview with the Sentinel. “When we circled, both arms came up. It was a shock.”
Smith’s granddaughter took a photo of the object from about 3,000 feet altitude. The photo shows nothing but a blurred white object in the water.
— Sun Sentinel (@SunSentinel) April 27, 2016
He went out with his granddaughter in a Piper Warrior plane to aid in the search for the teens.
Smith told the paper that the object was as big as a car’s hood and was tied together with a life jacket. A “small person” was on top of it, he added. “It was late in the afternoon, 3:30, 4 p.m., and the glare from the sun obliterated what we were seeing,” Smith said.
The pilot then told the Coast Guard his GPS location.
“When other aircraft from the Coast Guard came, they asked us to leave, so we headed home,” Smith said. “I just knew in my head that this part of the story was over.”
— WPEC CBS12 News (@CBS12) April 27, 2016
The Coast Guard couldn’t spot what he saw.
Smith, however, told investigators he had “no doubt in his mind” he saw a person and was certain it was one of the boys.
Smith also said he spotted the 19-foot-long boat used by the boys.
Before they went missing, friends and family said they got messages from them. One read, “Bahamas bound with my boy” and another message read, “We’re f’d,” according to the NY Daily News.
Perry also messaged his mother, Pamela Cohen,
— Chuck Weber (@ChuckWeber12) April 29, 2016
“Mom, it’s Perry. My iPad is dead… I’ll text you in a little. Love you,” he told her, according to reports. His mother replied in a minute, telling her son she misses him.
“OK. I wanted you to sleep home tonight,” she said. “I miss you. We leave Sunday morning for New York. What about your work?”
Perry then said that he was doing his homework and then said, “but I was going to sleep at…” His message then cut off.
He had sent the text messages from Austin’s phone, as his own wasn’t working. The iPhone was recovered after the boat capsized.
— WPEC CBS12 News (@CBS12) April 26, 2016