Dad of Missing Palm Beach County Teen Fisherman to Share iPhone Data

Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, both 14, set out on a fishing trip off the Jupiter Ponce de Leon Inlet on July 24, 2015

The father of a Florida teen who vanished on a fishing trip with a friend said Monday amid a feud over his son's recovered cellphone he will share whatever data is obtained with the other boy's family and law enforcement.

Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, both 14, disappeared last July when their boat capsized off the Florida coast during a severe storm. Their bodies were never recovered, but a Norwegian cargo ship spotted their 19-foot boat near Bermuda last month and recovered it. Onboard were Stephanos' iPhone and some fishing gear.

Blu Stephanos issued a statement Monday saying he was working with an IT professional and the phone's manufacturer in an effort to get the device working again.

"That would be the first order of business, since Austin Stephanos' phone has been submerged in salt water for over eight months," Blu Stephanos said.

Cohen's parents filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to prevent the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission from giving the phone to the Stephanos family before it could be examined by law enforcement. The FWC is the lead agency handling the investigation.

Cohen's mother, Pamela, announced plans to withdraw the lawsuit on Tuesday, saying, "We have full faith and confidence in the FWC to provide equal access to the contents of any retrievable information that is relevant to the tragedy, and to maintain confidentiality."

In a statement Monday, FWC spokesman Rob Klepper said that since this is not a criminal investigation, the agency would turn over the phone and other items to the respective families. Any retrieval of information from Austin Stephanos' phone would only be done with his family's permission, Klepper said.

The cellphone, two fishing rods and two small tackle boxes were recovered from the boat. The phone was shipped ahead to FWC, but the boat and other personal effects were crated and are expected to arrive at Port Everglades next month.

Robert Heller, a digital forensics expert in Texas, said the phone could contain the boat's location, its speed, its direction, distress text messages the boys tried to send, photos they took and other information, assuming it wasn't damaged beyond repair. Even if FWC turns over the phone to the Stephanos family, Heller suspects investigators will download its data for safekeeping, if it is accessible.

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"If they didn't make a forensic record, then shame on them," he said.

The Coast Guard searched for a week and the families' volunteer search lasted more than two weeks. During its search, the Coast Guard did spot the overturned boat near Daytona Beach, almost 200 miles from where the boys departed but it was gone when a recovery boat arrived at the location.

This is not the first rift to appear between the families since their sons' disappearance. Last October, Pamela Cohen asked that Austin Stephanos' parents not use her son's name or likeness while fundraising for their new foundation.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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