Teens' 6 days adrift verge on limits for survival at sea

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Coast Guard Investigates Tip About Missing Florida Teens

TEQUESTA, Fla. (AP) — Crews pushed the limits of an ever-expanding search zone Wednesday for two teens missing at sea and potentially nearing the boundaries of human survival.

The Coast Guard's relentless hunt for the 14-year-old fishermen, Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, persisted for a sixth day as questions grew over how long it could go. Decision-makers were juggling a mix of "art and science," Chief Petty Officer Ryan Doss said, trying to balance the knowledge of how long people can survive adrift with the unknowns on whether the boys had flotation devices and drinking water and what their physical condition is.

Still, authorities insisted their search would continue throughout the day.

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Teens' 6 days adrift verge on limits for survival at sea
This combination made from photos provided by the U.S. Coast Guard shows Perry Cohen, left, and Austin Stephanos, both 14 years old. Cohen and Stephanos were last seen Friday afternoon, July 24, 2015, in the Jupiter, Fla. area buying fuel for their 19-foot boat before embarking on a fishing trip. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP)
Candles with handwritten messages saying "Come Home Safe" and "Hold on Boys" were seen at Jupiter Inlet in Jupiter, Fla., Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015. After hundreds of rescue workers fanned out across a massive swath of the Atlantic for a full week, the Coast Guard's search for two teenage fishermen ended Friday. Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen have been missing since July 24, when they took a small boat out of the inlet. (Bruce R. Bennett/Palm Beach Post via AP)
A sign at Tequesta's First Presbyterian Church reads "Praying for Austin & Perry and their families" Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015, in Tequesta, Fla. After hundreds of rescue workers fanned out across a massive swath of the Atlantic for a full week, the Coast Guard's search for two teenage fishermen ended Friday. Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen have been missing since July 24. (Bruce R. Bennett/Palm Beach Post via AP)
A teak plaque topped by a clear lighthouse as a tribute to missing teens Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen is displayed at Jupiter Inlet in Jupiter, Fla., Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015. After hundreds of rescue workers fanned out across a massive swath of the Atlantic for a full week, the Coast Guard's search for two teenage fishermen ended Friday. Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen have been missing since July 24, when they took a small boat out of the inlet. (Bruce R. Bennett/Palm Beach Post via AP)
Volunteers take donations during a fundraiser for Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen at the Square Grouper in Jupiter, Fla., Friday, July 31, 2015. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)
Carolyn Vought, left, and Vickie Partlow hug during a fundraiser for Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen at the Square Grouper in Jupiter, Fla., Friday, July 31, 2015. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post via AP)
Joe Floyd, a relative of Austin Stephanos, reads a poem during a fundraiser to help continue the search for Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, at the Square Grouper, Friday, July 31, 2015 in Jupiter, Fla. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post via AP)
A banner hangs at the Castaways Marina with pictures of Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen. After 8 days of searching the ocean, the U.S. Coast Guard ended their search for the boys. Friends and relatives attended a fundraiser at the Square Grouper, Friday, July 31, 2015 in Jupiter, Fla. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post via AP)
Girls wear t-shirts they bought at to help fund the ongoing private search for Nick Cohen and Austin Stephanos who have been missing since they took their boat out of the Jupiter Inlet, Friday, during a fundraiser at Jumby Bay Island Grill, Wednesday, July 29, 2015, in Jupiter, Fla. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post via AP)
People fill the Jumby Bay Island Grill, Wednesday, July 29, 2015, in Jupiter, Fla., during a fundraiser to pay for private search efforts for Nick Cohen and Austin Stephanos who have been missing since they took their boat out of the Jupiter Inlet Friday. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post via AP)
Andrew Grubowski, 10, of Palm City, Fla., releases a lantern during a vigil for Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, Tuesday, July 28, 2015, in Stuart, Fla. The two teenagers have been missing since last Friday when they went out on a boat to go fishing from Tequesta, Fla. A search continues for the boys from the Atlantic waters off Daytona Beach, Florida, north through Savannah, Ga. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
People join hands during a vigil for Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, Tuesday, July 28, 2015, in Stuart, Fla. The teenagers have been missing since last Friday when they went out on a boat to go fishing from Tequesta, Fla. A search continues for the boys from the Atlantic waters off Daytona Beach, Florida, north through Savannah, Ga. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Petty Officer 3rd Class Charles Camarda, left, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Nate Matthews scour the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Savannah, Ga., Tuesday, July 28, 2015, looking for two missing teenage boaters. Camarda and Matthews are crew members from Air Station Clearwater, Florida. (AP Photo/Tamara Lush)
In this image released by the U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 1st Class Mike Crosby, right, scans the surface of the Atlantic Ocean through his binoculars while in the cockpit of a Coast Guard HC-130J, Tuesday, July 28, 2015, while searching for Florida teens Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, Tuesday, July 28, 2015. The Coast Guard pressed ahead with a fifth day of searches for the boys while their families coordinated air searches of their own. (Senior Chief Petty Officer Sarah B. Foster/U.S. Coast Guard via AP)
Nick Korniloff, second from right, talks with Tequesta police officers outside of his home Wednesday, July 29, 2015, in Tequesta, Fla. Korniloff is the stepfather of Perry Cohen, one of two teenagers who have been missing since last Friday when they went out on a boat to go fishing from Tequesta, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Pictures of Perry Cohen, left, and Austin Stephanos, right, are on display at fundraiser at Jumby Bay Island Grill, Wednesday, July 29, 2015, in Jupiter, Fla., during a fundraiser to pay for private search efforts for Nick Cohen andAustin Stephanos who have been missing since they took their boat out of the Jupiter Inlet Friday. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post via AP)
Mary Kaye Hagenbuch, center, says a prayer for Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen during a prayer vigil at Jupiter Lighthouse Park, Tuesday, July 28, 2015, in Tequesta, Fla. The teenagers have been missing since last Friday when they went out on a boat to go fishing from Tequesta. A search continues for the boys from the Atlantic waters off Daytona Beach, Fla., north through Savannah, Ga. Also pictured are, from left, Hunter Wilkinson, Susan Wilkinson, Lauren Wilkinson, Susie Mydock, second from right, and Rob Hagenbuch (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post via AP)
Carly Black, center, mother of Austin Stephanos, one of the missing teenage fishermen, listens as the U.S. Coast Guard makes a statement outside of the homes of the two teenagers missing since a fishing trip last Friday, Wednesday, July 29, 2015, in Tequesta, Fla. The Coast Guard announced that the search for Nick Cohen and Austin Stephanos continues. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Heather Kenney, right, of Jensen Beach, Fla., stands with her son Xander, 11, during a vigil for Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, Tuesday, July 28, 2015, in Stuart, Fla. The two teenagers have been missing since last Friday when they went out on a boat to go fishing from Tequesta, Fla. A search continues for the boys from the Atlantic waters off Daytona Beach, Florida, north through Savannah, Ga. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lilly Folds lights paper lanterns during a candlelight vigil and paper balloon release at Jupiter Inlet Park, Monday, July 27, 2015, for teenagers Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen in Jupiter, Fla. The teens were last seen Friday afternoon buying fuel near Jupiter and were believed to have been heading toward the Bahamas. (Thomas Cordy/The Palm Beach Post via AP)
Two girls embrace during a vigil for Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, Tuesday, July 28, 2015, in Stuart, Fla. The teenagers have been missing since last Friday when they went out on a boat to go fishing from Tequesta, Fla. A search continues for the boys from the Atlantic waters off Daytona Beach, Florida, north through Savannah, Ga. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Julia Wolf, 16, left, and Jordan Harley, right, both of Stuart, Fla., hold candles during a vigil for Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, Tuesday, July 28, 2015, in Stuart, Fla. The two teenagers have been missing since last Friday when they went out on a boat to go fishing from Tequesta, Fla. A search continues for the boys from the Atlantic waters off Daytona Beach, Florida, north through Savannah, Ga. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Carl Hodges, of Stuart, Fla., right, reads a prayer during a vigil for Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, Tuesday, July 28, 2015, in Stuart, Fla. The teenagers have been missing since last Friday when they went out on a boat to go fishing from Tequesta, Fla. A search continues for the boys from the Atlantic waters off Daytona Beach, Florida, north through Savannah, Ga. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Map locates Jupiter, Fla., where two teens went missing on a fishing trip; 1c x 3 inches; 46.5 mm x 76 mm;
A man talks to a police officer outside the house of one of the two missing 14-year-old fishermen, Sunday, July 26, 2015, in Tequesta, Fla. The Coast Guard says a boat belonging to the boys has been found off Florida's Atlantic coast but neither boy was in or around the boat. Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos were last seen Friday in the Jupiter area buying fuel for their 19-foot boat. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
A group of people hug before leaving the house of one of the two missing 14-year-old fishermen, Sunday, July 26, 2015, in Tequesta, Fla. The Coast Guard said a boat belonging to the boys has been found off Florida's Atlantic coast but neither boy was in or around the boat. Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos were last seen Friday in the Jupiter area buying fuel for their 19-foot boat. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
A police car sits in the driveway of the house of one of the two missing 14-year-old fishermen, Sunday, July 26, 2015, in Tequesta, Fla. The Coast Guard said a boat belonging to the boys has been found off Florida's Atlantic coast but neither boy was in or around the boat. Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos were last seen Friday in the Jupiter area buying fuel for their 19-foot boat. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Caden Key, 14, of Jupiter, Fla., talks with the news media after fueling his jet ski at the JIB Club Marina, Tuesday, July 28, 2015, in Tequesta, Fla. Key knew of the two Florida teens who've been missing since Friday, July 24, who were last seen fueling their boat at this marina before heading out to fish. The search continues for the boys, from the Atlantic waters off Daytona Beach, Fla., north through Savannah, Ga. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Katie Kleinman, 14, of Jupiter, Fla., talks with the media as she and a friend stopped to fuel their jet ski at the JIB Club Marina, Tuesday, July 28, 2015, in Tequesta, Fla. Kleinman knew the two Florida teens who've been missing since Friday, July 24, who were last seen fueling their boat at this marina before heading out to fish. The search continues for the boys, from the Atlantic waters off Daytona Beach, Fla., north through Savannah, Ga. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
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"There's been a lot of rumors that the search has been suspended. I just want to refute that," Capt. Mark Fedor said, speaking on the street where both boys live. "The search has not been suspended. It is still active and open."

Earlier Wednesday, a U.S. official in Washington had said the Coast Guard was suspending the search.

Fedor was part of a Coast Guard contingent that met with the boys' families for an hour Wednesday afternoon. Afterward, he declined to elaborate on the search or to answer reporters' questions, but even a day earlier he acknowledged that with each passing hour, the prospects were direr.

The saga of the two boys from Tequesta, Florida, began Friday. Their parents believed their fishing outing would take them to a local river and waterway, as was the rule in previous solo trips, not the deep waters of the Atlantic. A line of summer storms moved through the area that afternoon, and when the teens didn't return on time, the Coast Guard was alerted and began their day-and-night search.

The Coast Guard has covered a mammoth search area stretching 32,000 square nautical miles, from the waters off South Florida up through South Carolina. It has proven a frustrating ordeal, with no new clues since the teens' capsized boat was located Sunday. Sightings of floating objects occasionally spurred hope before being found irrelevant.

Dr. Claude Piantadosi, a Duke University medical professor who authored "The Biology of Human Survival: Life and Death in Extreme Environments," said finding individuals outside of a boat, simply bobbing in the water, is intensely difficult. The former Navy officer said sailors lost at sea might run an orange streamer 30 to 40 feet behind them to aid being located by air.

"Single people in the ocean are the hardest to pick up," he said.

Piantadosi, an avid boater and diver, has frequently visited the Atlantic waters where the teens disappeared, and says they are remarkably empty expanses, largely free of anything the boys might be able to grab unto.

"There's just not that much debris out there," he said. "Occasionally you'll find a log or buoy, something like that drifting along, but not very often."

But the lengthening interval since the boys disappeared does not dispel all hope for them.

In 2005, two South Carolina teens were swept out to sea on their small sailboat during a storm. After searching for them for several days, the Coast Guard and state officials searched began referring to their effort as a recovery operation not a rescue.

Yet the teens were found alive after almost a week at sea. A key difference from the Florida teens, though: They were still aboard their boat.

Each year, Florida waters swallow a small number of boaters who venture out and never return. In 2013, when Florida had 56 boating fatalities, it also had nine missing boaters who were never found and are presumed dead, according to the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Last year, there were 64 fatalities and six missing boaters.

The commission could not break down how many of these accidents happened in the ocean, the Gulf of Mexico or on a lake or river.

Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a critical care doctor at the University of Southern California, said the boys' experience in the open water may be far different from what some might expect.

"They're usually not going to be found eaten by sharks like some movies would have you believe. They're going to have fatigue and muscle cramps and dehydration," he said. "It's the worst oxymoron in the world: You're surrounded by water and there's no water."

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Associated Press writer Alicia A. Caldwell in Washington contributed to this report.



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