On Monday afternoon, a distress call was made to the U.S. Coast Guard claiming a yacht named "Blind Date" had exploded, killing a few, injuring others and forcing survivors to seek safety in life rafts from the sinking vessel. Rescue efforts were immediately initiated, but when the teams couldn't find evidence of the boat's debris or survivors after four hours, they began to realize it was a probable hoax -- a hoax that cost them about $88,000 for the wasted rescue efforts.
A $3,000 reward was issued Tuesday morning for the perpetrator of what appears to be a false phone call and more details have been emerging since. One such detail is evidence that the radio call was made from land.
"Many hoax calls, you can tell immediately they're from children," Deputy Commander Gregory Hitchen said at a news conference this morning. "This one was somewhat calm but was giving a convincing story as to what the nature of his emergency was."
Hitchen also said the call was made on a channel not usually used in emergencies.
In the audio recently released, you can hear the caller explaining there are 21 souls on board the vessel and 20 in the water. Nine of these people were allegedly injured from the explosion and three were deceased. The caller explains details like the fact that he is standing in three feet of water as the craft is going down; where the yacht's last location was; and the fact that he is using a solar powered radio as some equipment is damaged.
Listen to the audio:
Hitchen said the hoax put the public at risk by taking Coast Guard personnel away from a separate emergency call that came in during the search. The Coast Guard received a report of a person in the water off Bayonne, N.J., in the separate call but did not find anyone in distress.
Watch this clip of Hitchen at a news conference earlier today:
Here's a second clip where Hitchen issues a reward for the person who made the call:
Making a false distress call is a federal felony, with a maximum penalty of five to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and reimbursement to the Coast Guard for the cost of performing the search. The Coast Guard and other state and local agencies responded to more than 60 suspected hoax calls last year in the northern New Jersey, New York City and Hudson River region.
Hitches said a hoax of this kind is dangerous not only for those who could be failing to receive help while the rescuers are preoccupied but for the rescuers themselves. CBS Local has more:
Hitchen said Monday’s operation even jeopardized a call that said someone was about to jump off the Bayonne Bridge. That jump never happened, but officials said hoaxes put both emergency responders and the public at risk.
“When we are responding to a hoax, we are not ready to respond to an actual search and rescue case,” he said. “It’s always dangerous to launch a helicopter out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for a search and it’s particularly dangerous when several helicopters are all converging on the same point in the ocean to initiate a rescue.”