FWC: Pilot reported person in the water

Posted at 7:34 PM, Apr 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-29 06:08:41-04

We are hearing the chilling account from a Georgia pilot who was involved in the search for Tequesta teens Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen after they vanished at sea last summer.

The pilot's account is revealed in a recently released FWC investigation.

RELATED: More Austin and Perry coverage

The 128-page report details everything from cell tower data to fuel receipts.

However, a striking part is this chilling account from pilot Bobby Smith.

“There’s no doubt about that. There was a person lying on this debris,” Smith told NewsChannel 5’s Alyssa Hyman in a FaceTime interview. “The very first day we went out is when we spotted the most promising target.”

Bobby Smith is a pilot from Georgia who volunteered to help search for Tequesta teens Austin Stephanos  and Perry Cohen who vanished at sea.

The friends left for a fishing trip from the Jupiter inlet July 24 but never returned.

“It was like two large pieces of white Styrofoam, and there was only one person on it,” said Smith.

Smith is listed on FWC’s witness list. He reported seeing a person in the water two days after the boys went missing. He says he was recruited by a family friend to help in the search and rescue efforts.

Smith says that he and his passengers spotted a big target in the water about 35 miles north of Jacksonville.

“We circled it three times as we circled it the arms raised up, so we knew there was a person on it and they were definitely alive,” said Smith.

Smith says he snapped a blurry picture of his target in the water. However, because of the distance and quality you can’t make out what exactly it is.

Smith says he then had to fly higher to be able to send a radio transmission to the Coast Guard. He says that’s when they lost the visual, fearing something happened.

By the time the Coast Guard arrived, he says they couldn't find the person again.

The 128-page investigative report also reveals text messages and Snapchats sent from Austin's phone.

The report suggests the last text messages sent from Austin’s phone was to his parents around 11:25 a.m.

The report says they traced the messages to a cell tower site in Jupiter, suggesting the boys were south of the Jupiter Inlet, but it’s not clear where.

The report says the phone disconnected from the internet around 1:15 p.m., about the same time a massive storm rolled in.

Their boat was found a few days after they went missing on July 26, but before the Coast Guard could pick it up, the boat  disappeared. It has since been found along with that iPhone discussed so much in this report.
That iPhone is now the center of a legal battle between the two families.