A closer look at Coast Guard search and rescue

CHARLESTON, SC – The Navy and Coast Guard have searched nearly 30,000 square miles of the Atlantic for two missing teens and still no sign of them. Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos were last seen near Jupiter, Florida buying gasoline for their boat last Friday.

They headed out just as a storm was headed in. Authorities found their boat capsized some 60 miles offshore two days after  the 14-year-olds left for a fishing trip. Crews found only one life jacked near their capsized boat, leading authorities to think the boys may have created a makeshift floatation device out of the missing engine cover, life jackets, and a cooler.

US Coast Guard Captain Mark Fedor says, “Here in Florida, the water is a little bit warmer than it is in other parts of the country so you could survive a little longer than you could in other places.”

The search continues now as far as Savannah, Georgia. The families of the teens are offering a $100,000 reward for their rescue and are asking experienced boaters in the area to help in the search.

And recently here in Charleston, the local Coast Guard made a rescue many are calling “miraculous”, four boaters rescued after more than 16 hours lost in the ocean. When someone is lost in the water, the only thing visible is their head, something so relatively small is hard to find in the vast ocean, especially with high waves. News 2’s Mayci McLeod went out on the water with the Coast Guard during a search and rescue drill to find out how they track down boaters in distress.

The crew starts with the last known location of the boat in distress, and throws a life ring in the water.

USCG Petty Officer First Class Daniel Torres says, “We call it ‘datum’. Datum represents the most probable location of the thing we are looking for. So, hypothetically, this is the last known position, we throw that in the water and it’s going to drift with the current.”

The life ring is the center of the search pattern, which is three intersecting triangles, much like a radiation symbol.

Torres says, “The radiation symbol that you saw us do, gives us the most economical time and coverage area and gives us the best chance of finding a person in the water.”

They keep the life ring in the center of the pattern, keeping up with the pull of the current. It is even challenging keeping the bright orange life ring in sight from 200 meters away and with constantly moving water. The Coast Guard says it’s even harder spotting the head of a distressed boater.

USCG Senior Chief Justin Longval says, “When you factor in waves, or other factors like sun or darkness into that situation, it makes it extra hard for us to see people in the water.”

And through the pattern, the team tracks down the pretend missing boater. They say if they hadn’t found the boater on the first try, they would re-run the pattern and then expand the search to a larger area.

Torres says, “The jetties and off shore are where people would have the most trouble. So I would recommend less experienced boaters avoid those areas.”

The Coast Guard says the best way to avoid danger is to be prepared before getting on the boat, through safe boating classes. They also recommend wearing a life jacket, telling someone where you plan to be, make sure a working radio is on board and an EPIRB, or Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon.

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