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WPBF: Special Report: Can information be retrieved from Austin’s cellphone?

Originally published by ABC News affiliate WPBF 25 News.

Teens missing at sea since July 24

TEQUESTA, Fla. —The iPhone at the center of a missing persons investigation is now in the hands of Apple.

Tequesta teens Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen disappeared during a fishing trip nine months ago.

Their boat was recovered off the coast of Bermuda in mid-March, along with Austin’s iPhone 6.

That phone is considered the only communication device that was on board the 19-foot SeaCraft when the boys vanished.

Both families agreed to send the iPhone to Apple on April 29, where it will be analyzed by experts.

Florida Fish and Wildlife officials describe the phone as “significantly and severely” deteriorated, and pictures show the phone damaged and waterlogged.

Is it possible to extract any information from this key piece of evidence? Experts say it’s possible.

Austin’s iPhone

Mike Cobb is the director of engineering at DriveSavers, a California company that specializes in extracting data from damaged phones.

“We had a capital murder case which was thrown into a river and the iPhone was recoverable by us after law enforcement was able to get that,” Cobb told WPBF 25 News anchor/reporter Sanika Dange.

Not only does DriveSavers work on criminal cases, the company is frequently referred to customers by Apple.

When we asked Cobb about the chances of recovering data from an iPhone that was once submerged in water, he responded, “Well one thing that we think of right away is was this phone submerged for the full eight months or was it in some sort of package or plastic?”

Cobb says that distinction could make all the difference.

Phones need to be restored to a semi-functional state to extract information. The good news is that once an engineer is able to access some information, all the information should be available, including text messages, photos, videos and GPS locations.

However, there is one major hurdle. Austin Stephanos’ cellphone had been in saltwater for eight months.

“When it goes into the water,” Cobb explained, “it’s going to be starting the corrosion process immediately.”

So what are the first steps when dealing with corrosion? You start by taking the iPhone apart and micro-cleaning certain key components.

Cobb showed WPBF an example of a waterlogged phone that had been dropped in saltwater. Corrosion can be seen on several areas.

The process of retrieving data may sound complicated, but former Apple CEO John Sculley told WPBF it can be done.

“There is precedent for devices that have been severely damaged to recover if not all its information, some information,” he said.

Sculley is close friends with Perry Cohen’s parents, Pam and Nick. Though he has never met the Stephanos family, he told WPBF he feels deeply for both families.

“I think it was important for them to find out as much as they can of the last moments of Perry’s life and bring conclusion to this tragic situation,” he said.

There’s no timeline on when Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen’s families may have to wait. Cobb says the process of extracting data from phones can be anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

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