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VIDEO: Coast Guard hunts for hoax caller

The mayday call that sent more than 200 first responders scrambling Monday to locate and save 21 people in life rafts from a sinking yacht off New Jersey was determined to be a hoax.

Now the Coast Guard is trying to find the person who cost taxpayers more than $318,000 in aircraft, vessel and personnel expenses. The estimate does not include the cost of triage and ambulance stations that were set up along the shoreline, awaiting victims.

Click play to hear portions of the hoax call and view a CBS report.

The Coast Guard said Tuesday that it is offering a $3,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the person who made the June 11 mayday call reporting a vessel explosion and sinking east of Sandy Hook, N.J.

Air and boat crews from Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey conducted a 5-1/2-hour, 638-square-nautical-mile search before the effort was suspended. No trace of a life raft, boat or debris was spotted.

Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service New York received a distress call about 4:20 p.m. Monday reporting that there was an explosion aboard the yacht Blind Date. The caller said seven people were injured and that all 21 people on board had abandoned ship into life rafts.

A subsequent call to the Coast Guard reported that three people had died and that several people had second- and third-degree burns.

“We investigated the radio transmissions. The lines of bearing from our antenna sites all pointed over land, not over water,” Capt. Gregory Hitchen, deputy commander of Coast Guard Sector New York, said Tuesday at a press conference.

In addition to the cost, the Coast Guard is emphasizing the impact of the hoax on operations.

“False distress calls like this tie up valuable assets like helicopters and boats and put our crews at risk every time, since we take every distress call seriously,” Rear Adm. Dan Abel, commander of the 1st Coast Guard District, said in a statement.

Making a false distress call is a federal crime 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.

Click here for a Coast Guard press release on the consequences and impact of false distress calls.

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.
Anyone with information regarding false distress calls is encouraged to anonymously contact the Coast Guard Investigative Service at (646) 872-5774 or (212) 668-7048.

Click here for a report on the hoax by the Newark Star-Ledger.