*** UPDATED STORY: Hope for miracle dims, but search for teen boaters goes on
The story below contains updates on the ongoing search from Wednesday, July 29, 2015.
The Coast Guard has vowed to keep looking for two 14-year-old boys missing off the Florida coast, all while having to refute rumors and inaccurate reports of the search ending.
Here's what you need to know from Wednesday, Day 6 of searching for Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos:
- The Coast Guard says:
- The search-and-rescue efforts remain active and ongoing.
- Previous reports of the search being suspended were inaccurate.
- Images of a wire stating the boys were found alive are a hoax.
- The Coast Guard has covered nearly 40,000 nautical miles in the search.
- A volunteer pilot found more debris about 10 miles off Sebastian Inlet.
Cohen and Stephanos were last seen Friday fueling up their boat in Jupiter for a fishing trip. The boys' boat was found Sunday about 67 nautical miles from Ponce Inlet.
The latest updates on Wednesday's search efforts are below, starting with the most recent on top.
9:45 p.m. - More than 100 attend vigil in Cocoa Beach
Dozens gathered in Cocoa Beach for a candlelight vigil for the missing teens Wednesday. Another vigil was held in Daytona Beach. (PHOTO/Joel Schipper, Staff)
As the search continues for the two missing teens from Jupiter, a candlelight vigil was held on the beach in hopes of the boy’s safe return.
More than 100 people sang hymns and prayed Wednesday night along the pier holding out hope 14-year-olds Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos are found alive.
“I am just hoping they are found safe. It’s been what, six days now? Five days? It’s not good,” said Susan Baird.
Many at the vigil Wednesday night said they came here because they, too, have children around the same age.
Todd Hickman and his wife say they can only imagine what the parents of the two boys are going through as they search for answers.
“Our son is 14-years-old and he plays on the water, he’s on the river fishing all the time, so [it’s] kind of close to home,” said Hickman.
As the sun set, candles were lit, heads were bowed and prayers sent up for the boys who have been missing since Friday.
Afterwards, the candles were placed in the sand and lined the beach.
Even though another search day has come to an end, optimism remains the boys will be found alive.
“You have the support of the entire state plus half of the east coast behind you. We wish you well and bring the boys home safe,” said Kristin Marie, who attended the vigil with her husband.
The vigil was originally planned for Tuesday night but rain delayed it until Wednesday.
Organizers hope more vigils will be held around Central Florida, especially along the coast, as the search for Perry and Austin continues.
9:30 p.m. - Search enters sixth night
Crews pushed the limits of an ever-expanding search zone Wednesday for two teens missing at sea and potentially nearing the boundaries of human survival.
The Coast Guard's relentless hunt for the 14-year-old fishermen, Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, persisted for a sixth day as questions grew about how long it could go. Decision-makers were juggling a mix of "art and science," Chief Petty Officer Ryan Doss said, trying to balance the knowledge of how long people can survive adrift with the unknowns on whether the boys had flotation devices and drinking water and what their physical condition is.
Still, authorities insisted their search would continue throughout the day.
"There's been a lot of rumors that the search has been suspended. I just want to refute that," Capt. Mark Fedor said, speaking on the street where both boys live. "The search has not been suspended. It is still active and open."
Earlier Wednesday, a U.S. official in Washington had said the Coast Guard was suspending the search.
Fedor was part of a Coast Guard contingent that met with the boys' families for an hour Wednesday afternoon. Afterward, he declined to elaborate on the search or to answer reporters' questions, but even a day earlier he acknowledged that with each passing hour, the prospects were direr.
The Coast Guard has covered a mammoth search area stretching nearly 40,000 square nautical miles, from the waters off South Florida up through South Carolina. It has proven a frustrating ordeal, with no new clues since the teens' capsized boat was located Sunday. Sightings of floating objects occasionally spurred hope before being found irrelevant.
Dr. Claude Piantadosi, a Duke University medical professor who authored "The Biology of Human Survival: Life and Death in Extreme Environments," said finding individuals outside of a boat, simply bobbing in the water, is intensely difficult. The former Navy officer said sailors lost at sea might run an orange streamer 30 to 40 feet behind them to aid being located by air.
"Single people in the ocean are the hardest to pick up," he said.
Piantadosi, an avid boater and diver, has frequently visited the Atlantic waters where the teens disappeared, and says they are remarkably empty expanses, largely free of anything the boys might be able to grab unto.
"There's just not that much debris out there," he said. "Occasionally you'll find a log or buoy, something like that drifting along, but not very often."
But the lengthening interval since the boys disappeared does not dispel all hope for them.
5 p.m. - Flying with a volunteer search pilot
Gary Varley, owner of Merritt Island-based Beachside Helicopters, has logged dozens of hours searching for two missing teens over the Atlantic Ocean, joining other volunteers and crews searching from Brevard County to as far north as South Carolina.
Varley let us fly with him Wednesday as he continued searching for the boys, saying he had no plans to give up.
"I still think we need to continue the search," said Varley. "We need to find these boys — hopefully alive — but definitely, we need to find them."
The search is daunting for a helicopter pilot who has to keep one eye on other aircraft using the same airspace, and the other on objects floating on the massive body of water off the Florida coast.
It takes a trained eye to spot something out in the ocean, especially two young boys.
While flying about 30 feet above the water, Varley explained, "You can see much more detail. However, you can't see as much. You probably start the search at a higher altitude, and if you see something, you maybe descend to get a closer look at it."
One day after he found a floating pink object in the water, Varley found more debris Wednesday, about 10 miles off Sebastian Inlet, which he took pictures of and reported to authorities.
Back on land, Varley remains on standby, committed to the search and even turning away business, including Daryl Drew, who said he was eager to hire Varley and search for the teen boaters.
"Footing the bill for the gas to go out, man and machine, to go looking for the boys who are out in the water," said Drew.
But Varley and others are part of a coordinated effort of volunteers who absorb the cost for the cause. Varley said it costs about $400 an hour in fuel and maintenance to keep this chopper over the ocean.
"It's a small price to pay for what we're doing, I think."
There’s no telling how many more times Varley will go back up before the boys are found, or the search is suspended.
Varley, however, said he's in it for the long haul.
4 p.m. - Vigils planned in Cocoa Beach, Daytona Beach
As the search presses on for the boys, two candlelight vigils have been planned at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Cocoa Beach Pier and the Daytona Beach Bandshell.
The Cocoa Beach vigil was organized by Ann Marie Gustke, who doesn't know either of the missing teens or their families, but said the search hits close to home for her as a mother of four children, including three boys, the oldest 13.
"I had a few quiet moments and was just sitting on the soccer field, and really just praying for these boys and their safe return," Gustke said.
While she watched her 8-year-old son at his soccer camp Tuesday, Gustke said she began to think of the families of 14-year-olds Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos.
"I had this idea: Let's have a candlelight vigil all along the East Coast," Gustke explained.
She took to social media and started a Facebook page called "Candlelight Vigil for Austin and Perry," with the goal of having vigils to spread up the coast until the boys are found.
As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 600 Facebook users have liked the page, and many said they planned to show up in person at the Cocoa Beach Pier for Wednesday night's first vigil.
As she follows the massive search for the teens, Gustke said she was also talking to her children about it.
"I hope they are safe and near shore," says her 8-year-old son, Noah.
"I hope they get food when they find them," added Gustke's 5-year-old son, Caden.
Gustke said she hopes people will support their families who are waiting for what could be a miracle.
Meantime, the search locally in Brevard County now includes the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, which sent a helicopter out Wednesday. The unit specializes in search and rescue operations across the world.
3:30 p.m. - Coast Guard dismisses hoax, boys still missing
The Coast Guard said images of an alert claiming the two missing teenagers have been found alive is a hoax.
The alert read: "The Coast Guard has found the two boys missing…in the Atlantic Northeast of OMN…alive…ZJX OMIC"
Coast Guard officials said that was not accurate, and the search was still ongoing.
12 p.m. - Coast Guard confirms search still active
The Coast Guard said its search for the two missing teens remains active, despite an Associated Press report from an unnamed U.S. official claiming the search was being suspended.
The AP published this news alert at 11:37 a.m. Wednesday:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- AP source: Coast Guard suspending search for 2 teenage boaters missing off Florida.
At 11:48 a.m., the Coast Guard's Southeast district tweeted:
#breakingnews the search for missing 14 YOs is an open and active search-and-rescue effort. This case has not been suspended.— USCGSoutheast (@USCGSoutheast) July 29, 2015
The AP cited a U.S. official who said the Coast Guard was suspending the search. But Chief Petty Officer Ryan Doss said any reports of the search ending were inaccurate.
"There is no plan to suspend the search today," Doss said.
Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos were described as consummate seamen who grew up on the water and spent much of their free time boating and fishing.
The search along Florida's east coast has extended into Georgia and South Carolina. A spokesperson with the Coast Guard's Seventh District, in Miami, said four Coast Guard Cutter vessels and two airplanes were actively searching, along with Navy aircraft and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Volunteer Gary Varley, from Merritt Island, said even if the Coast Guard had called off the search, he would not have to suspend his own efforts.
At noon Wednesday, three vehicles pulled into the driveway of Cohen's home, and representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Tequesta Police got out and met with the family.
8:05 a.m. - 31,000+ nautical square miles searched
The search for two missing teenagers who left Friday for a fishing trip in Jupiter is now in Day 6, and U.S. Coast Guard crews have looked over more than 31,000 square nautical miles.
Cohen's stepfather, Nick Korniloff, said Tuesday the boys were not supposed to be in the ocean, only in rivers and waterways.
Multiple agencies, including the Coast Guard, Florida Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Navy, are involved in the search. Additionally, several private planes and helicopters have searched above the ocean.
7:40 a.m. - Search extends to South Carolina
Coast Guard Petty Officer Anthony Soto said the search area for Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, both 14, now stretches from Florida's east coast to Charleston, South Carolina.
As dawn broke Wednesday, Soto says a C-130 aircraft planned a "first-light" search near Tybee Island, Georgia, where callers reported seeing something floating in the water Tuesday evening. Crews combed the area Tuesday night, but didn't find anything connected to the search for the missing boys.
Soto said the agency issued an Urgent Marine Information to notify boaters in the area to contact the Coast Guard if they spot anything.
He said the agency will likely reevaluate the search mission, which is entering its sixth day, sometime Wednesday.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Previous stories: Search for missing teen boaters
- Tuesday, July 28: Floating object found near missing teens' boat
- Sunday, July 26 – Monday, July 27: Missing teens' boat found off Ponce Inlet coast