For someone who aspires to be a Coast Guard aviator, Danik Shiv Kumar has a lot to learn.
The 21-year-old Sandusky, Ohio, man was sentenced Monday to three months in federal custody and ordered to pay $489,007 in restitution for making a false distress call that triggered a massive search on Lake Erie, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
On the evening of March 14, 2012, Kumar took off in a single-engine Cessna for a solo flight from Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland to Bowling Green State University. About 30 minutes into the flight, Kumar called the Cleveland Hopkins Airport control tower and reported seeing a vessel “launching up flares,” according to court documents.
Asked for additional details about the vessel in distress, Kumar described it as a “25-foot fishing vessel, I guess you could say. Everyone had a life jacket with a strobe light. I counted four of them,” court documents say.
The information was relayed to the Coast Guard, which immediately dispatched two vessels. The cutter Thunder Bay searched for 21 hours, and multiple boat crews from Station Lorain, Ohio, searched for about 16 hours.
Rescue helicopters from Detroit joined the search, as did a Canadian Coast Guard airplane, according to court documents.
When the search-and-rescue efforts ended, authorities began questioning Kumar. About a month later, he admitted that he didn’t see a boat in distress and that there were no people in need of help, according to a report by The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Kumar also said that when he landed he knew the Coast Guard was searching but chose not to report the truth, according to court documents.
The $489,007 restitution represents the cost of the search — $277,257 spent by U.S. agencies and $211,750 in Canadian government costs. Kumar was also sentenced to 250 hours of community service and three years of supervised release.
“I am concerned that there are people who are willing to risk the lives of other boaters who might be in legitimate need of rescue or assistance, as well as needlessly endanger response crews, by knowingly making false distress calls,” Capt. Eric Johnson, chief of the Ninth District Incident Management Branch, said in a Coast Guard statement.
Documents that prosecutors filed said Kumar "chose not to report the truth to protect his aspirations of being a U.S. Coast Guard aviator.''
His lawyer, Edmund Searby, said Kumar apologized to the Coast Guard and his family, according to a report by the Toledo Blade.
“There was no premeditation to cause a hoax,” Searby told The Blade. “This was a highly unfortunate mistake made by a 19-year-old boy flying for the first time alone at night over water.”