Friday, January 20, 2012

Suspected hoax prompts Coast Guard search - Avon Lake, Ohio

LORAIN — The Coast Guard is investigating a suspected hoax that launched a two-hour search and rescue operation near the shores of Avon Lake.

The Coast Guard received approximately 11 Mayday calls on a radio distress channel about 3 a.m. yesterday.

Coast Guard Sector Buffalo, New York, issued an urgent marine information broadcast asking area boaters to respond if anyone saw anything.

The man believed to be sending the distress calls was then heard blowing in to the radio, repeating the broadcast information broadcast and “not sounding like a person who was in actual distress,” according to Coast Guard Petty Officer George Degener.

Despite this, the Coast Guard dispatched a 25-foot rescue boat from Cleveland and a Dolphin helicopter from Air Station Detroit. The search location was narrowed to a half mile off Avon Lake by obtaining a line of bearing from the distress calls’ signal hitting radio towers.

“They weren’t able to find anybody out there,” Degener said. “They didn’t see any signs of a boater in distress.”

The helicopter was called off mid flight when it decided the call was bogus. The Coast Guard canceled the search around 5:30 a.m., he said. The suspicious responses from the radio operator and the lack of correlating reports of missing or overdue people prompted the cancellation.

“Having these assets out on the water and searching takes away from someone who may actually be in trouble. It could cause someone to lose their life because we aren’t able to respond to the person really in need,” Degener said. “Not only does it take away from the possibility of rescuing someone, it puts our crews at risk as well.”

Degener confirmed it is possible that the radio operator was on land using a handheld device.

All distress signals are recorded, so his voice could be recognized if another call is issued and criminal charges could be pursued if he is caught, he said.

Individuals who issue false alarms face jail time and hefty fines, Degener said. He said a similar situation in Detroit recently got an individual sentenced to 18 months in jail and a $14,000 fine.

“If you are found guilty, you are responsible for the cost of the rescue,” he said.


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