Yesterday a call was made to the U.S. Coast Guard indicating that a yacht had exploded off the New Jersey ocean shore with 21 people aboard. Now it is believed the distress call was an orchestrated hoax.
At approximately 4:20 p.m. on Monday the U.S. Coast Guard received a call from an individual saying they had abandoned ship about 17 miles off of Sandy Hook, N.J. The caller indicated that 21 people had been on board at the time of the explosion and that there were several injuries.
According to the New York Daily News, the caller said the yacht, called "Blind Date", had sunk.
Help was immediately dispatched and emergency personnel searched for several hours, covering an area of 650 square nautical miles, and did not find any indications a boat or accident had been at the location given by the caller.
“There have been no signs of debris and no life rafts,” Coast Guard spokesman Thomas McKenzie said. “We’ve tried to reach out to the boat without success.” The Daily News reported McKenzie, at that time, stopped short of calling the call a hoax, saying "I can’t make that call at this time.”
Today several media reports have surfaced that lean towards the suspicion of the incident being an organized hoax and it was a costly response.
WPIX reported the Coast Guard had called off the search last night after hundreds of people assembled to help in a search and rescue mission.
screengrab of emergency personnel on the scene in Sandy Hook, N.J.
"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.
Later on the Coast Guard said in a statement, the case was going to be investigated as a potential hoax phone call.
This cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, reported ABC News. The ABC report also said this isn't a unique hoax, and the Sandy Hook incident may be part of "SWATing pranks", a trend where callers make fake reports and watch the emergency personnel take action; last June a similar incident occurred, also in Sandy Hook.
Officials are now trying to track down the caller for this recent Sandy Hook call. A false distress call is a federal felony that carries a maximum of five to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and the perpetrator is also responsible for paying the Coast Guard for the expenses incurred.
NBC News reported a news conference is underway this morning to discuss this incident.
"We're taking this potential hoax very seriously," Capt. Gregory P. Hitchen of the Coast Guard said at the news conference. He indicated the call came from a radio line that "points across New Jersey and southern New York, including Staten Island."
Additionally, a follow up call reported three people had died. "This person was somewhat calm but was giving us a convincing story," Hitchen said.
The Coast Guard initially offered a $1,000 reward for any information, but this amount has been increased to $3,000 reported NBC News.