The pilot of an aircraft who joined the search for two teenage boys after they went missing off the coast of Florida says he saw a person on a piece of debris in the sea.
Bobby Smith, who joined the search in summer 2015, was flying about 25 miles off the coast around the Florida-Georgia line when he made the discovery on July 26, according to media reports.
The search was triggered when Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, both 14, went missing after a July 24 fishing trip. Cohen and Stephanos were never found.
Smith first spotted the piece of debris while flying at an altitude of about 3,000 feet. He then reduced his height to 200 feet and circled the area.
“It was obvious it was a person lying on their back,” Smith told the Sun Sentinel on April 28. “When we circled, both arms came up. It was a shock.”
Smith increased his height to radio the information to the Coast Guard, but he lost sight of the piece of debris and could not find it again.
“It was late in the afternoon, 3:30, 4 p.m., and the glare from the sun obliterated what we were seeing,” he said.
The Coast Guard arrived within 20 minutes, but found nothing in the area. They were not able to confirm the sighting.
“When other aircraft from the Coast Guard came, they asked us to leave, so we headed home,” Smith said.
The boat on which Cohen and Stephanos were traveling was recovered near Bermuda by a Norwegian ship on March 18. Stephanos’ phone was among the belongings recovered.
Investigators looked at cell phone records from the two boys. One friend said he received a message on Snapchat reading “We’re f’d,” while another message sent by Stephanos stated, “Peace out Jup.”
Perry’s parents suggested the boat they were using may have been sabotaged, according to the Daily Mail. This suspicion was backed by investigators, who said they discovered the battery and ignition on the boat were found switched off.
However, marine expert Jimmy Hill explained the boys may have simply been trying to save energy by turning off the battery and the ignition so they could radio for help later.
“Those particular items, by themselves without any other information, are not particularly shocking,” Hill said, according to the Daily Mail.