The boys went to sea during a significant squall, the U.S. Coast Guard said Friday.
“There was a potential for them to get caught, or whether they were just disabled and drifting or maybe they capsized at that point, we don’t know,” said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Mark Fedor, chief of response for District 7 in Miami, which led the search.
Social media chatter indicated the boys may have been headed to the Bahamas. The Coast Guard said its search began late in the afternoon July 24, and that it notified Bahamian authorities.
But the teens’ boat never made it to the Bahamas. Their vessel was found capsized off Ponce Inlet, 180 miles north of its departure point, at 11 a.m. Sunday.
U.S. Coast Guard video showed a rescue swimmer in a yellow wetsuit next to the overturned boat. It looked small in the sea as waves washed over it and the rescuer confirmed to an aircraft that it was the boys’ vessel, and no one was aboard.
Without knowing how long the teenagers may have been out of the vessel and perhaps vulnerable to ocean conditions and exhaustion, the Coast Guard kept looking.
During the week, the Coast Guard launched 30 aircraft and 31 vessels while three U.S. Navy ships also took to the sea. Their search area was between Jupiter Inlet and Cape Hatteras, N.C., and east into the Atlantic Ocean, 270 miles from Savannah, Ga., the Coast Guard said. Privately owned boats and aircraft joined the effort.
The families’ plight drew celebrity supporters such as actor John Travolta, who is a pilot, and Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Namath, both of whom were thanked in a statement released Friday. They also thanked the Coast Guard, Tequesta police and other law enforcement agencies that tried to find their sons.
“We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to our families, friends, neighbors, colleagues, community, along with strangers from around the globe for your prayers and thoughts as well as all that have contributed to the Perry and Austin Rescue Fund to ensure the boys’ safe return,” the families said.
The families echoed Coast Guard comments that the case is not closed and can be re-examined if “pertinent details emerge or credible information comes forward.”