Strange coda to this story.
(Also a bit unnerving to see how close the boys' empty boat came to getting rammed and sunk by the freighter -- solo sailors take note!)
Missing Florida teens: Captain says finding boat 'stroke of luck' | www.mypalmbeachpost.com
Captain: Finding missing Florida teens’ boat an amazing ‘stroke of luck’
By Lawrence Mower
- Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Updated: 2:56 p.m. Sunday, April 24, 2016 | Posted: 1:55 p.m. Sunday, April 24, 2016
The Norwegian captain
who found Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos
’ tiny boat bobbing off the coast of Bermuda
last month called it an extraordinary coincidence over which he’s still marveling.
In an interview with The Palm Beach Post from Norway
, Håvard Melvaer, 40, said the discovery happened while captaining the Edda Fjord
, a massive multipurpose supply ship, on its route
from Port Fourchon, La., to its home port in Haugesund, Norway
A week into their voyage, on March 18, Melvaer said he was in his office working on some Excel spreadsheets when his wife came up to see him in the afternoon.
“You look tired,” she said. “Let’s go out for some fresh air.”
The second he stepped out the door, he spotted the 19-foot SeaCraft in the water about 30 to 40 feet off the port side.
Håvard Melvaer, captain
of the Edda Fjord (Courtesy Håvard Melvaer)
Nobody else in the 16-person crew noticed it. The officer on the bridge was using binoculars to keep lookout, but at that moment was looking off the starboard side, Melvaer said. Had his wife not asked him to step outside, he would have missed it, too.
“We were basically just crossing exactly where it was at the time,” Melvaer said. “It’s just a stroke of luck. There was no skill involved. It just took a pair of eyes looking in that direction at that particular time.”
Melvaer said he’s tried to wrap his head
around how unlikely it was.
“You kind of think a little bit and try to understand the concept
of how big it really is,” he said. “It’s amazing. We kind of felt like it wanted to be found.”
The discovery, nearly nine months after Austin and Perry left the Jupiter Inlet and never returned, has been called a “miracle”
by the U.S. Coast Guard. Coast Guardsmen initially found it floating 67 miles off the coast of Daytona Beach two days after the Tequesta teens disappeared. They attached a data marker buoy to it and continued searching for the boys, but the device failed. When they went to retrieve the boat, it was gone.
The boat is now packed in a shipping
container and expected to arrive May 16 at Port Everglades. Its contents — Austin’s iPhone
, two fishing rods and two small tackle boxes — have been returned to the families. The phone
could offer clues to their disappearance if the family
wants to pursue them.
Melvaer said Sunday that after spotting the boat, the crew hoisted it on board to remove it from the shipping
lane, a standard practice. The boat was intact and had a serial
number on the engine
, so he notified the Coast Guard.
In the meantime, he wondered about the boat and its crew.
“I went up to my office and basically Googled ‘missing fisherman,’ I think, and it (Austin and Perry’s story) came up as one of the first ones,” he said.
He had never heard of the boys, but when the Coast Guard confirmed his suspicion and asked him to send photos, Melvaer was stunned. He and the crew felt they had to protect what was now precious cargo, he said, and they made sure it was kept out of harm’s way while on board.
“I’m a parent myself, so I can identify with the situation,” he said. “I’ve been boating since I was a kid as well.
“That goes for all the crew, as well. They had the same reaction. They felt that it was important to get this properly done and try not to do extra damage.”
Since he started training at age 17, he’s only twice run across abandoned vessels in the water — one time the bow of a boat off the coast of India
, and a second time a downed helicopter he happened to be searching for.
“It’s not something that happens every day,” he said. “When you’re at sea, things have a tendency to blend in.”
Melvaer declined to discuss particular details about the boat or its contents, citing the Florida Fish
and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigation and concern for the boys’ families. He wouldn’t say whether Austin’s cellphone was in usable condition.
His hope is that the chance discovery might bring some peace to the families.
“Let’s hope that this leads to something good,” he said. “Of course, nothing can ever replace what’s lost
. We’re just crossing our fingers and hoping for the best.”