Not finding Haitian boy who vanished at sea troubles lifelong friends

Good Samaritans remember helping group of migrants on capsized boat

By Andrea Torres - Digital Reporter/Producer, Associated Press

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - A group of good Samaritans from South Florida said they were destined to find a group of migrants who had spent about a day and a night drifting at sea on a capsized boat. 

Colt Jenkins, Parker Smith and Brett Tubbs are still troubled by the memory of the Haitian boy who vanished at sea. They were on their way back home on Sunday from the Bahamas when they spotted nine migrants about 53 nautical miles east of Palm Beach County's shoreline. 

"As I turned my head to look, the last thing I ever expected to see was a capsized boat," Tubbs said. 

The migrants claimed a man and a 9-year-old Haitian boy, who was with them when the boat capsized, had vanished at sea. The good Samaritans tried to find them but said it was like finding a needle in a haystack.

Colt said he used a very high frequency radio to hail the U.S. Coast Guard.

It took the Coast Guard hours to get there before deploying Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules planes from Air Station Clearwater, an HC-144 Ocean Sentry medium range surveillance aircraft from Air Station Miami and the cutters Robert Yered from Miami; Moray from Port Canaveral; and Ridley from Mayport.

After a 69-hour search that covered 4,154 square miles, the Coast Guard suspended the search for the man and the boy on Wednesday evening. 

Parker finds comfort in knowing they helped to save nine lives. 

"It was kind of destiny that we saw them ... It was a miracle the way we intercepted them," Parker said. "I don't think they would have made it."

The U.S. Coast Guard referred to the migrants' ordeal as a botched smuggling attempt from Freeport to Miami and identified the man who vanished as a suspected smuggler. In October, the Coast Guard rescued two children from a leaking boat with a Haitian man and 23 migrants from the Dominican Republic. Many die at sea. 

The three lifelong friends shared the story and pictures with West Palm Beach's ABC News' affiliate WPBF-25, which then shared them with Miami's ABC News affiliate WPLG-Local 10 News. 

Copyright 2019 by WPLG Local10.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.