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Flagler Fire Flight Assists in Ocean Search for Missing Teens Amid Conflicting Reports of Effort’s Status

| July 29, 2015

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Flagler County Fire Flight’s Dana Morris. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County’s Fire Flight, the emergency helicopter, assisted the U.S. Coast Guard in the search for Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, the teen boaters who went missing Friday off the coast of Palm Beach County.

Fire Flight’s search took place even as Coast Guard officials found themselves needing to refute reports–including a statement by a federal official in Washington, D.C.–that the search had been suspended, while Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation officers were reportedly at Cohen’s home for an hour this afternoon.

The teens went missing during a fishing trip in a 19-foot boat. The boat was found Sunday, capsized in Gulf Stream currents some 180 miles north of their point of departure in Jupiter.

Helicopter pilot Dana Morris and flight medic George Tolbert searched 150 miles of the ocean off the Flagler County coastline and as far out as five nautical miles this morning (July 29) without success. See the flight path below.

“We had good visibility, and were able to identify dolphin, sea turtles and birds, so we feel we covered the area very well,” Morris said. “We had the doors open and a life raft. We were ready to assist them if we found them.”

The Coast Guard often asks for help searching for boats in distress or missing people, and in this case has broadened the search

“Flagler County is in an area where the Coast Guard has minimal resources,” said Flagler County Fire Rescue Chief Don Petito. “The Coast Guard’s air assets are in Savannah (Georgia) and Miami. Their water assets are in Jacksonville and Ponce Inlet. We’re right here.”

Morris contacted the Coast Guard Wednesday morning to offer assistance.

“I spoke with Senior Chief (Petty Officer Luis) Negron and told him I was willing to help,” Morris said. “I told him I had a tracking program that would allow me to show him where we searched.” Morris and Tolbert searched the area for an hour and a half. “I’ve been watching the news coverage and wanted to do what I can to help,” Morris said.

But time is running short. “People can survive in the water,” Capt. Mark Fedor, chief of response for the Coast Guard 7th District, told CNN today. “It’s relatively warm, but, again, it’s a dangerous environment, and there’s only so long you could stay in the water.”

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Fire Flight’s search track. Click on the image for larger view.

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