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Coast Guard: Two Hoax Phone Calls Triggered Search for Yacht Explosion 'Victims'

Morning briefing announces increased reward of $3,000 for information about the prank calls about a yacht explosion off Sandy Hook on Monday.

Coast Guard officials in New York Tuesday said they now believe that two phone calls, possibly from the same man, falsely reported that a yacht had exploded off Sandy Hook, setting off a massive air search that came to naught Monday.

In a press briefing at its Battery Park headquarters, the Coast Guard announced that it was increasing the award for information about the hoax from $1,000 to $3,000 "for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of anyone responsible."

A statement from Coast Guard urged anyone with information about the incident to call its investigative service at 646-872-5774 or 212-668-7048 and promised anonymity. [Full text of the statement below.]

"In addition to being a federal crime, false distress calls waste taxpayer dollars, put Coast Guard and other first responders at unnecessary risk and can interfere with the Coast Guard's ability to respond to an actual distress at sea," the service said in a statement announcing today's briefing.

Asked last night about the possibility of a hoax, U.S. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Troy Loining told members of the media at Fort Hancock Monday night: “There is some indication that it could be that. Referring to an extensive air and sea search off Sandy Hook, he said, “We didn’t find anything.”

No people had been found, and no debris spotted in the hours following distress call, which came in around 4:20 p.m. Monday afternoon. The search continued until about 10:20 p.m. when it was was suspended, according to Coast Guard spokesperson Thomas McKenzie, who said the incident would be investigated as a possible hoax.

Earlier Monday, emergency squads from several Bayshore communities were summoned to the tip of Sandy Hook after a report of a boat explosion 17 miles offshore. The vessel, called "Blind Date" was said to have 21 people on board. Nine people were reportedly critically injured. 

According to an earlier statement from Coast Guard Petty Officer Erik Swanson, rescuers received a call from a person using a solar powered radio, who said the on-board radio and GPS system had been destroyed. "We have not been able to reach them ever since," said Swanson. "We have very little information on where it came from. We are focusing on this as a real emergency," he said then.

As of 8 p.m. officials at the scene were not responding to media queries about the possibility that the distress signal might have been a prank of some kind. But emergency personnel from along the Bayshore were leaving the scene. Last June, the Coast Guard responded to reports of a sailboat sinking in the vicinity and called it off when nothing was discovered.

Seven medevac helicopters, ten ambulances, and an army of volunteers and onlookers had gathered at Sandy Hook, but several helicopters and ambulances were later released and no victims had been brought in. 

There were reports of at least 21 people on the boat with all are accounted for and on life rafts, according to an earlier statement from McKenzie.

The rescue staging area is at the  entrance to Fort Hancock, at the tip of Sandy Hook. Atlantic Highlands First Aid Squad, Rumson First Aid Squad, Monmouth Beach Emergency Squad, among others, responded.

 The helicopters were expected to transfer victims from there, according to Brennan.

Visitors were being turned away from the entrance of the national park at Sandy Hook.

The boat Blind Date is a 160-foot motor yacht that was custom built in 2009, according a charter boat company called Charter World

Nearly a year ago, the U.S. Coast Guard suspended an active search for missing persons and vessels following a distress call about a sunken sailboat off the coast of Sandy Hook. Loining confirmed the June 14, 2011 incident was a hoax.

During last year's search, the New York offices of the Coast Guard reported receiving initial distress call from a reported 33-foot sailboat named Courtney Lynn at about 3:15 a.m.

Passengers reported that the boat was “taking on water,” an initial released statement from the Coast Guard said. The person placing the distress call had told the Coast Guard that passengers had no radio or flares or horns  and had abandoned ship.

Rescue aircraft and boats from the Coast Guard and other local and state agencies were dispatched but no remnants of the boat reported missing were recovered, U.S. Coast Guard Spokeswoman Jetta Disco said on June 14, 2011.

The U.S. Coast Guard and other state and local agencies responded to more than 60 suspected hoax calls in the northern New Jersey, New York City and Hudson River region in 2011, according to a press release issued by the agency Monday night. 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 release stated.

* Christina Johnson, Elaine Van Develde, and Alli Mechanic contributed to this story.

Here is the full text of the statement from the U.S. Coast Guard:

NEW YORK – Coast Guard rescue crews have suspended a search for 21 people who reportedly abandoned ship 17 miles east of Sandy Hook, N.J., June 11, 2012.

This case is now being investigated as a possible hoax call. 

Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service New York received a distress call at approximately 4:20 p.m. from the crew of the yacht Blind Date stating the vessel suffered an explosion, seven people were injured and all 21 people reportedly aboard the yacht had abandoned ship into liferafts.

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.  Coast Guard and other state and local agencies responded to more than 60 suspected hoax calls in the northern New Jersey, New York City and Hudson River region in 2011.

In addition to being a federal crime, false distress calls waste tax payer dollars, put Coast Guard and other first responders at unnecessary risk and can interfere with the Coast Guard’s ability to respond to actual distress at sea.

"More than 200 first responders assembled mass casualty receptions areas in Newark, and Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook, N.J., preparing to receive the reported injured passengers,” said Cmdr. Kenneth Pierro, of Coast Guard Sector New York.

The Coast Guard offers a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of anyone responsible for making a false distress or hoax call to the U.S. Coast Guard.  Anyone with information regarding false distress calls is encouraged to anonymously contact the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service at 646-872-5774 or 212-668-7048.

Today’s Coast Guard search east of Sandy Hook included two Coast Guard boat crews and four Coast Guard helicopter crews, who searched approximately 638 square nautical miles. Response units from New York City Police Department, Fire Department of New York City, New Jersey State Police and Nassau County Police Department also conducted searches in the area.

For more information contact Coast Guard Public Affairs Detachment New York 212-668-7114 or 917-703-0983.


bayboat June 11, 2012 at 11:50 PM
Reported at 420...get it?
Wburbage June 11, 2012 at 11:56 PM
No hoax, I was at St Barnabas (the only burn unit in NJ) and they were getting ready for helicopters to come in bringing the patients.
Kaitlyn Anness June 12, 2012 at 12:56 AM
WBurbage, but did any come in?
Seamus O'Malley June 12, 2012 at 12:58 AM
This is breaking news, not that some dim wit Jersey Shore chick got arrested.
Jane Reynolds June 12, 2012 at 01:18 AM
did they get any patients?
Seamus O'Malley June 12, 2012 at 01:20 AM
Unless its a hoax then I hope they find who called this in.
mike June 12, 2012 at 01:30 AM
That's what they were doing.
Wburbage June 12, 2012 at 01:42 AM
My father was being moved from the ER to a room when they asked all ER visitors to leave due to this emergency but I never saw or heard a helicopter come in. So I guess I can attest to the preparedness of the hospital but that's about it. If it is a hoax I certainly hope they get the person that did it.
Kaitlyn Anness June 12, 2012 at 02:03 AM
Moving ER patients out is a ramification I never even thought about, if this is the result of a hoax. Thanks so much for the info, Wburbage. And I sincerely hope your father is doing well.
Wburbage June 12, 2012 at 02:21 AM
The announcement that came from the ER was for all visitors, not patients, to leave the ER. They just so happen to be moving my father at the same time.
JOHNNY Done it June 12, 2012 at 02:36 AM
THis person who did this needs to be made an example out of & Hung out to dry,,,
Jess June 12, 2012 at 10:06 AM
NBC news just put on a report that this was a hoax. Very scary to think about all of the wasted resources if something happened elsewhere at the same time. This is how terrorists can get us....something so simple as calling in a hoax can send all emergency responders to one site and they can attack us elsewhere.
Shannon K. Winning June 12, 2012 at 01:03 PM
Withholding judgement for now, but if it is in fact a hoax, this is a serious waste of resources, including human energy and stress. I lived in Highlands for eight years where you hear first hand about actual search and rescue efforts, where rescuers put aside their lives and jobs to race to the scene, and where a whole town hangs on edge waiting for grim news. It is an emotional roller coaster to them. That's a resource you can't account for.
Kathy English June 12, 2012 at 01:15 PM
I hope they find out who did this and give them a very hard punishment since this effect and use up the time of our emergency people who could of been saving real calls. Go Get Them!!!!
Jeff Gollin June 12, 2012 at 02:12 PM
The Patch got the story right. Most of the mainstream media (hungry for ratings) got ahead of the story and confused report with fact. Nice going.
K. Burke June 12, 2012 at 02:12 PM
This is just so devastating to me , My father and 4 others were lost at sea I could have only wished when he sent out the distress call he and all the brave souls on the Doxsee Girl could have been saved,... Shame on the person or persons who created this hoax, I don't understand how you can live with yourself...
Kevin O June 12, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Did anyone happen to think that this could be terror related to test response times of emergency personell for a future attempt?
slyfox1961 June 12, 2012 at 03:09 PM
@Kevin O: why would terrorists be concerned with emergency response times to the middle of the bay? If they called in a fake diaster in the middle of NYC or Newark Airport, then I would agree with you. I believe it is nothing more than an attention seeking or disturbed individual.
John Tyler June 12, 2012 at 03:21 PM
It gets the emergency people out of the way,
Sara June 12, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Unfortunately, that's what I was thinking.
Paul E Taylor Jr June 12, 2012 at 04:43 PM
As soon as the story hit Fox news I told my wife it was a hoax, it didnt seem right that even a yacht would not have lifeboats for a total of 21 people. It just smelled as bad as the garbage that bennies leave behind LOL (Yeah I had to get in my benny bashing LOL)
Dentss Dunnagun June 12, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Nice call Bayboat ...spot on !
Kaitlyn Anness June 12, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Thanks so much, Jeff. It was hectic--but our great team took their time on what was and still is a sensitive issue. We can always be first, but we'd rather be right!
Mindy June 13, 2012 at 03:33 AM
After hearing the actual call I think the man is a latino. It's the way he says the word: water. Also, he pronounces his U's different-very much like a latino or south american/mexican would.
Mindy June 13, 2012 at 03:36 AM
I heard the call he made on the news. You should listen to it. I think he's a latino-south american/mexican. i think that because of how he says the word: water. He also pronounces the letter U like a latino. He also sounded scripted...like he was reading from a script. I also think he's older...30's or 40's. Just my guess...
Mindy June 13, 2012 at 03:44 AM
So sorry for your loss. I agree with you. A terrible hoax and I hope they catch him.
AUDREY FREDERIKSEN June 13, 2012 at 11:17 AM
If it isn't a hoax, where are all the relatives of people on board this vessel? I would have been calling the locals/Coast Guard, everyone, and would have been standing on the dock at Sandy Hook.
Bruce June 13, 2012 at 02:14 PM
Mindy the Linguistic Expert has spoken... everybody pay attention. I think she may be scottish based on the way she typed "pronounces"
Chu-Man-Fu June 13, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Trace him and hang him by the cajones! the so called games of "Punking" , "Bombing", "Swatting", reporting a false distress call and putting our first responders at risk is sick. Hundreds of lives were risked for a so called prank. Not just the responders but the others who needed assistance and couldn't be attended to. This is a criminal offense ! Also, to criticize the response to the staging area is beyond my comprehension. If you were one of the so called "injured" you'd have been damned glad to have a helo / waiting ambulance there to get you to treatment as soon as possible ! WTH is wrong with people - You're not happy and call the response overkill and say they overreacted, If it was real you'd be crying that the response was not sufficient/fast enough !!! Do you feel the same about 9-1-1 and seeing the steady stream of emergency personnel & vehicles heading to NYC? Just because you couldn't see this alleged incident on your TV whilst stuffing your face with popcorn and bon bons didn't make it any the less a potential disaster. What a Freakin' moronic "I need something to complain about" society we live in. If I was on an amulance crew and summoned to your house I'd drag my feet until I was certain that I saw your predicament on the boob tube .....
Mindy July 01, 2012 at 03:32 AM
i guess that makes us both scottish Bruce. (you are a jerk though and I am not!) LOL!


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