SANDY HOOK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – The price tag for two hoax calls made to the Coast Guard that a yacht had reportedly exploded off the New Jersey coast has grown to more than $300,000.
Monday’s search and rescue operation east of Sandy Hook for a luxury yacht called the “Blind Date” and its 21 passengers took about five hours before the search was called off.
“This is the biggest hoax in regard to the number of helicopters and boats we actually had respond to a case,” Coast Guard Deputy Cmdr. Gregory Hitchen said Tuesday.
The caller said that 21 people aboard managed to get onto lifeboats, but that some were seriously burned. A second call came in later reporting that three of the people aboard had died, officials said.
In the distress call, which was released by the Coast Guard, the male caller said there was an explosion on board and that the boat was taking on water.
“We have 21 souls on board, 20 in the water,” the caller said to the Coast Guard. “I have three deceased on board, nine injured because of the explosion we’ve had. I’m in three feet of water on the bridge. I’m going to stay by the radio as long as I can before I have to go overboard.”
WEB EXTRA: Hear The Hoax Call For Help:
More than 200 first responders rushed to the scene, including Coast Guard crews, NYPD helicopters, the FDNY, New Jersey State police and Nassau County police, officials said.
The total cost of the operation, including aircraft and boat costs, is so far estimated at $318,000, the Coast Guard said. Officials said that does not include the cost of triage and ambulances that were set up on shore to receive wounded passengers.
“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 Admiral Dan Abel, commander of the 1st Coast Guard District, said in statement. “And they impede the ability of first responders like the Coast Guard and our partners to respond to real distresses where real lives may be in genuine peril.”
Making a false distress call is a felony that carries five to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and complete reimbursement for the entire cost of the search.
A $3,000 reward is now being offered by the Coast Guard for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of those responsible.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Coast Guard Investigative Service at 646-872-5774 or 212-668-7048.
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