WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Mustering hope for a "best-case scenario" in the face of countless unknowns, search crews braced for a seventh day and night at sea Thursday in the hunt for two teenagers missing from their capsized boat.
Five things to know about air-and-sea search for 14-year-old friends Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, who went missing last Friday off Florida's Atlantic coast:
THEY COULD BE ALIVE:
The Coast Guard, which is leading the rescue mission, says it wouldn't continue searching if it didn't believe the boys could still be alive. Much remains unknown, including whether the teens are wearing life jackets, might have a cooler or some other object to cling to, or have drinking water or food. Chief Petty Officer Ryan Doss said its decision errs on the side of the "best-case scenario" while balancing the limits on human survival.
THE SEARCH CONTINUES:
The Coast Guard says it has plans in place for its crews to remain out throughout Thursday overnight into Friday. Officials have not yet said whether it will continue beyond that. The decision will be based on whether clues surface, marine and weather conditions and, most importantly, whether they believe the boys could still be alive. The Coast Guard doesn't mobilize to retrieve bodies, so if their hope is totally lost, a search is suspended. "At the end of the day, it's all based on the possibility of survival," Doss said.
The Jupiter Police Department released the 911 call placed by Perry's stepfather Nick Norniloff, who reported the boys missing at 4:23 p.m. Friday, triggering the Coast Guard's search. In a calm voice, Korniloff said the 14-year-old boys hadn't been heard from since about 11:30 a.m. and said calls to a cellphone went unanswered. "Usually he checks in and he's told to check in on a regular basis," the stepfather said. The dispatcher replied, "And you know we had a storm before, too?" Korniloff said the boys went offshore, outside the bounds of their expected trip, though it's not clear how he knows this. "We had no idea they were going offshore," he said.
Even as the Coast Guard's intense hunt has covered more than 40,000 square nautical miles, and other agencies have helped, the families of the boys have organized their own search and are prepared to keep it going if the teens aren't found before formal efforts end. The family said about 20 private pilots were flying out of Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, on Thursday, in addition to numerous boaters, all attempting to cover areas not already in the Coast Guard's search zone. Matt Kuntz, an uncle of Austin, said those private efforts would continue even if the Coast Guard's search ends. "We will continue looking every day," he said.
INTEREST FROM AFAR:
More than 140,000 people have joined the "Find Austin & Perry" group on Facebook group and Twitter analytics site Topsy counted nearly 40,000 tweets with the hashtag FindAustinAndPerry in the past week. Followers of the story are among those who pumped more than $230,000 into a GoFundMe account to finance private search efforts. Kristen Mackey, a mother of two in Greenville, South Carolina, has been following the developments from afar and posting on Facebook about the boys. "The thought of two young boys lost at sea really pulled at my heart," she said, adding that she has faith their survival skills have helped them stay alive. "Miracles do happen," she said.