After attending a short business meeting in Miami, Nick Korniloff and his wife, Pamela Cohen, were driving back home to Palm Beach County when they received a call that got them worried. No one had heard from their 14-year-old son Perry Cohen, who was out fishing with his buddy for the day.
The news struck Korniloff, Perry’s stepfather, as strange: The boys are rarely far from their phones and are always good about responding while on the water, he said Tuesday.
“We decided there should be no hesitation and we should call in [the Coast Guard],” said Korniloff, founder of Art Miami, the fair that runs during Art Basel Miami Beach.
Since the call Friday afternoon, efforts to find any sign of Perry and his pal, Austin Stephanos, also 14, have been tireless — from family and friends combing the beach last weekend to nearly 20 aircraft scouring the sea. The boys were last seen Friday afternoon buying $110 worth of fuel near Jupiter.
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The Coast Guard said Tuesday evening it searched nearly 31,000 square nautical miles, from Jupiter to Charleston.
But time is running out. Survivability on the high seas is estimated at four to six days. Austin’s 18-foot Sea Craft was found Sunday in Ponce Inlet near Daytona Beach, about 200 miles north of Jupiter Inlet.
Cohen, posting on Instagram, said the fact that the vessel’s engine cover and a cooler were missing was a hopeful sign: “We believe the boys made floating devices from the items missing from the boat.”
“They’ve been in storms before with adults,” added Korniloff. “They know a cooler is not just there to keep beverages cold.”
The boys grew up on or near the water in Tequesta, a West Palm Beach suburb.
“The reality is they were in diapers on the sandbar as kids and grew up snorkeling and fishing,” Korniloff said. “Perry tried baseball and skateboarding, but if you put a fishing rod in front of him — on the water is where he wants to be.”
Despite the kids’ expertise, some questioned the families’ decision to let the boys take a boat out alone. Weather reports on Friday indicated thunderstorms.
The Friday fishing trip wasn’t out of the norm for the boys who recently finished eighth grade. But going out into the ocean was.
“Our rule is that he stays in the river or Intracoastal,” Korniloff said. “It’s still a surprise they went offshore.”
Meanwhile, photos of Perry and Austin — usually in swim trunks, holding the day’s big catch — have been passed around the Internet. The Facebook group “Find Austin and Perry” has nearly 70,000 members. On Tuesday morning, the two mothers — Pamela Cohen and Carly Black — appeared on the Today show.
In Miami, Mali Peterson, president of the Miami Art Dealers Association, sent an email to South Florida’s art community Tuesday, urging them to donate to the family’s gofundme.com account to pay for private searches. The account has raised more than $106,000.
On Tuesday evening, reports about something floating in the water off Jacksonville were heard on marine radio traffic. Coast Guard Petty Officer, second class, Anthony Soto, said Tuesday night the Coast Guard “responded to an object in the water, but nothing was found.’’