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Boat may be missing teens'

©Associated Press
February 3, 2003

NEW YORK -- A shift in the ice off New York revealed a capsized rowboat believed to have been taken by four teens who disappeared after a frantic 911 call over a week ago.

Despite a search involving divers and tracking dogs, the four boys have not been seen or heard from since the night of Jan. 24, when they called on a cell phone for help, saying their boat was taking on water.

The 7-foot fiberglass skiff authorities believe the boys took was spotted Friday off Hart Island, in Long Island Sound, just east of City Island, where the boys were last seen, police said. It was listing in shallow water, about 30 feet from the shoreline.

No bodies were found, but in an air pocket, police discovered a wrapper for an apple pastry sold at a gas station where the teens were seen shortly before they vanished.

The four friends were last seen on City Island toting a guitar and boat oars, and police believe that despite the frigid temperatures, the boys were trying to row to Hart Island, home to a potter's cemetery and abandoned missile silos.

Family members say the four -- Charles Wertenbaker, 16; Andrew Melnikov, 16; Max Guarino, 17; and Henry Badillo, 17 -- wanted to form a band.

The response to the boys' 12-second 911 call, which ended with the panicked words "We're going to die," has been criticized.

Authorities said the 911 supervisor failed to notify a police harbor unit about the call, as is police procedure, and police officials have recommended disciplinary action. The nearest boat or helicopter could have reached the area to begin searching in about 20 minutes, police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

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