The U.S. Coast Guard said that two emergency calls of an apparent explosion of a yacht off the coast of New Jersey was probably a hoax and likely came from land in New Jersey or southern New York City, possibly Staten Island.
A purported vessel named Blind Date radioed for help at about 4:20 p.m. saying that some sort of explosion prompted the 21 people on board to abandon ship into life boats, according to Chief Warrant Officer Brandon Brewer. The emergency call stated that at least seven people were hurt.
Deputy Commander Gregory Hitchen said at a news conference Tuesday that the search and rescue operation on Monday evening cost at least $88,000 and lasted about four hours.
The Coast Guard increased the reward from $1,000 to $3,000 for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the person responsible for making the false distress call.
The Coast Guard launched several helicopters and boats from Sandy Hook and Jones Beach to respond to the yacht in distress, Brewer said. Searchers got to the area very quickly but found no signs of the wreck or the life boats.
The Coast Guard searched approximately 638 square nautical miles for several hours before calling it off.
The Coast Guard Investigative Service is investigating the source of the call.
"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.
The NYPD, FDNY, New Jersey State Police, and Nassau County Police Department also conducted searches in the area, authorities said.
Video from SkyFoxHD showed at least a dozen ambulances and several helicopters waiting at Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook for casualties to arrive.
Rangers with the National Park Service, which manages the Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook, had declared a mass casualty incident.
The Coast Guard said in a statement that making a false distress call is a federal felony with a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and reimbursement to the Coast Guard for the cost of performing the search.
Anyone with information about false distress calls can anonymously contact CGIS at 646-872-5774 or 212-668-7048.
With the AP