Nearly a year after two teens vanished during a fishing trip off Florida’s coast, their boat has been found drifting at sea carrying a cell phone.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced on Saturday the recovery of a boat that disappeared July 24 last year carrying Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, both 14.
The boat was recovered 100 miles off Bermuda’s coast on March 18 by a passing Norwegian supply ship, which could not immediately identify it. On board, crew members found a tackle box and an iPhone, the U.S. Coast Guard said. They identified the boat later through its serial number and personal items found inside, he added.
The phone "wasn't working at the time,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Mark Barney told the Huffington Post Sunday. “I'm not sure if they're going to try to get into it, or extract it.”
The boat currently remains with the supply ship and is expected to be returned to the U.S. sometime in mid-May, Barney said.
Perry Cohen’s mother, in a statement posted to Facebook Saturday, called the find a “miraculous turn of events.” The recovery of the boat and phone is the first major breakthrough in the case since the boys vanished.
"Throughout this ordeal, we have hoped and prayed that we will find out the truth about what happened to our beloved son. In a nearly miraculous turn of events, we now have what may be the key to answering so many question[s] we all have about that fateful day,” Pamela Cohen wrote.
Cohen said the iPhone will be turned over to Austin Stephanos' family. According to her post, there has been no word on whether it will be given to either independent or government professionals to unlock.
“We urge Austin’s Family to do the right thing and to allow law enforcement to retain the iPhone until arrangements can be made to retain the top forensic teams available to begin to look for the answers we so desperately need,” she wrote.
In a separate Facebook post Saturday, the Perry J. Cohen Foundation -- a nonprofit that was launched after the boys' disappearance to teach boating safety and lifesaving skills -- thanked the supply ship for the recovery.
The foundation identified the vessel as Norwegian ship Edda Fjord, whose captain and crew of 19 not only recovered the boat but promised to bring it and the belongings inside back to the U.S.
“The actions of yourself, crew and company will hopefully provide more details for us with the hopes of finding out what exactly happened to our son and his friend,” the foundation wrote.
The boat’s recovery is a surprising turn of events. It was found once before on July 26, just two days after the boys went missing. A Coast Guard helicopter pinpointed the boat drifting off New Smyrna Beach’s coast, more than 100 miles north from where they set out in Jupiter, Florida.
A Coast Guard swimmer marked the boat with a beacon so that it could be later recovered, but when a salvage crew returned for it that same day, the boat was gone, the Palm Beach Post reported.