“A weather-related incident” capsized the 19-foot boat that was carrying Tequesta 14-year-olds Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen out to sea on the July 2015 day they vanished, according to a state report released late Thursday.
A key finding in the report: The engine was operating when the craft took on water. One theory after the disappearance was that the boys had engine trouble.
But “the evidence is not conclusive enough to confirm any particular scenario on what happened that day, other than the fact that the vessel took on water and capsized,” the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission report concluded.
Witnesses said the boat was headed into rough weather when it left Jib Yacht Club and Marina in Tequesta and headed through the Jupiter Inlet into the Atlantic Ocean at noon on July 24, 2015. One commercial fisherman recalled the skies over the ocean as being black, the temperature dropping and “you could tell it was going to be a really mean one.”
The Cohen family told The Palm Beach Post by email Thursday that it would have no comment until the Florida Department of Law Enforcement submits its final report on the boys’ disappearance and the entire investigation is complete. In a written statment, the Stephanos family wanted to acknowledge the dedication of all of those involved in the search and corresponding investigations.
“Though we think about our beloved son every minute of every day, this time of year is particularly difficult for our family, as I’m sure you can imagine,” the family said. “But we’d like to take this opportunity to say that we will never forget the outpouring of love and concern we received from friends and strangers alike. “
The Coast Guard searched for the boys until July 31, 2015. Their families called off their private search Aug. 9. The area it covered spanned about 50,000 nautical miles from the inlet north to the Georgia coast.
The teens’ disappearance led to unprecedented community support for the effort to find them, with fund raisers and vigils unfolding across northern Palm Beach County. A GoFundMe online account raised nearly $500,000 to help search for them.
A container ship recovered the Seacraft on March 18, 2016, about 170 miles off the coast of Bermuda. It was the first time the boat had been seen since the Coast Guard spotted it bobbing off Daytona Beach on July 26, 2015, two days after the boys were last seen. The Cohen family disclosed the discovery in April.
The teens’ disappearance led to reforms that might make it easier to find distressed boats. On May 23, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill (HB 711) that will expand a discount on registration fees for recreational boat owners who have locator beacons. Supporters, including sponsor Rep. MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta, have said such a device might have helped searchers find the boys.
The conclusion that weather led the boat to capsize is in line with how authorities described the conditions after the boys headed through the Jupiter Inlet. A storm first smacked Stuart with a 38-mph gust recorded at 1:07 p.m. before rolling through Hobe Sound and then into Jupiter. The National Weather Service issued a special marine statement about the line of expanding thunderstorms at 1:41 p.m.
Austin Stephanos’ cellphone disconnected from the Internet about 1:15 p.m.
The FWC’s 47-page report includes information that has been previously reported but on page 6, as part of its “Conclusion” it states: “The FWC team of investigators agreed that all evidence gathered to date supports the conclusion that Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen had a weather-related incident out at sea that caused their vessel to capsize.”
The FWC report said testing by Yamaha, the motor’s manufacturer, determined it was running and “became submerged at the time of the accident.” Photos of the boat from when it was found in 2016 show the engine and battery were turned off.
The report also said: “Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen still remain missing and are listed in the National Data Base for Missing and Exploited Children. Any new information or additional leads will be investigated if received.”
The FWC’s findings matched what a woman who was at the Jupiter Reef Club on July 24, 2015 previously told investigators that she recalled seeing the boat and watching the boys as they headed out to sea.
The woman, who spoke again with The Post on Thursday and asked that her name not be used, said it was raining heavily and she was concerned that rough surf might tip the vessel over. The woman said she called to notify the Coast Guard, but the teens eventually got the boat started and left.
“The boat was rocking really bad,” she said. “I said to my kids that it was going to tip.”
Read The Post’s complete coverage of the search for Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos. See a video timeline of the search and photo galleries from the search and vigils at myPalmBeachPost.com/austinandperry