- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—As the search for two missing 14-year-old boys moved into a fourth day, the Coast Guard expanded its efforts as far north as Savannah on Tuesday, holding out hope the teens can still be found alive.

A report of an item in the water off Brunswick, Georgia was investigated by the agency late in the morning.

“We have sent a helicopter to investigate reports of a cooler, but cannot determine if related to this case,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony Soto shortly before noon.

It was later confirmed that the item spotted of Brunswick is not related to this case, officials said.

“People can survive in the water. It’s relatively warm,” Coast Guard Capt. Mark Fedor said Monday. “But it’s a dangerous environment, and there is only so long you can survive in the water.”

His estimate of how long: “Four to five days in these conditions.”

Best friends Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen were last seen Friday morning when they motored out of Jupiter Inlet in a 19-foot center console boat. The vessel was recovered at 11 a.m. Sunday about 70 miles east of Daytona Beach, the Coast Guard said.

The area being searched Tuesday by three cutters and a C-130 airplane stretched from Cape Canaveral to Savannah, Ga., said Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony Soto.

The boys’ boat was found capsized and drifting almost 200 miles from where the pair left port. One life jacket was found, but how many life jackets were on the boat is unknown, Fedor said.

Meanwhile, the boys’ mothers appeared on NBC’s Today early Tuesday to express confidence that their sons would survive their ordeal.

“They are extremely athletic and knowledgeable about the water,” said Pamela Cohen, mother of Perry. “We know they are doing everything they possibly can to stay afloat.”

Added Carly Black, Austin’s mother: “Being on the water is in their blood. This is something they’ve prepared for their whole boating life. They’re out there.”

Numerous military planes and ships, including a Navy destroyer, have conducted a search over 27,000 square miles of ocean, an area about equal to West Virginia.

“It’s been an all-hands-on-deck-type effort,” Fedor said during a briefing at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse. “We will continue to search aggressively.”

To aid in the search, several volunteers and family members, including Cohen’s stepfather Nick Korniloff, scoured the beaches for any sign of the best friends.

“We want to encourage everyone here in South Florida, all the way up the coast from Palm Beach to Georgia, to get out to the beach and think about bringing our boys home,” Korniloff said, as he walked the shoreline at Coral Cove Park in Tequesta.

NFL Hall of Famer Joe Namath, a neighbor and friend of both families, is lending support to the search efforts.

“We’re all family,” he said. “If it was another neighbor, if it were a group or somebody else around here, I’d be trying to help.”

In their last communication, the teens sent a text message to Stephanos’ mother, Carly Black, at 11:25 a.m. Friday, with no indications of trouble.

Black said the boys likely were headed about four miles offshore, where the sea is 200 to 300 feet deep, a prime fishing location. They were seen aiming in that direction after they bought $100 worth of fuel at the Jib Yacht Club and Marina on Friday.

But the pair may have run into rough weather. At 3:15 p.m. on Friday, a marine warning was issued, saying thunderstorms, heavy rains and winds in excess of 40 mph were possible.

“It was a significant squall,” said Capt. Bill Taylor, who was aboard his 42-foot charter boat Black Dog when he saw the storm coming from the west that afternoon. “These storms pop up in a matter of minutes, and you have to deal with them.”

Taylor said he rode out the 20-minute squall by starting his engines and pointing his vessel into the wind. But Stephanos and Cohen may not have been able to do likewise, as the cover of the lone engine was missing, possible evidence of a power loss.

“The cowling removed could indicate the engine was disabled and they were working on that engine,” Fedor said.

Whether the teens had to deal with engine problems or bad weather remains unknown, said U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Gabe Somma.

“There were thundershowers in the vicinity, but where exactly were they in relation to the thundershowers?” he said. “That’s obviously going to play a factor.”

Staff writer Ken Kaye contributed to this report.

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