Coast Guard charges Schrenker with false distress call

MOBILE, Ala. — The U.S. Coast Guard processed an arrest warrant on fugitive pilot Marcus Schrenker Wednesday with communicating a false distress message and willfully destroying or wrecking an aircraft.

The complaint alleges that on Sunday, Marcus Schrenker knowingly and willfully communicated a false distress message and caused the Coast Guard to attempt to save lives and property when no help was needed in violation of Title 14, United States Code, Section 88(c). The complaint further alleged that Schrenker willfully damaged, destroyed or wrecked an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States or a civil aircraft used, operated or employed in interstate air commerce, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 32(a)(1).

Special Agents from the Coast Guard Investigative Service field office in Mobile led the federal investigation following the crash of Schrenker’s plane on Sunday. This case was also investigated by the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office, the United States Department of Transportation – Office of Inspector General, the Childersburg, Alabama Police Department, the Harpersville, Alabama Police Department, the United States Marshal’s Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation and Safety Board.

Schrenker allegedly reported to an air traffic controller that his aircraft’s windshield had imploded and that he was injured, which spurred a Coast Guard search and rescue effort including:

  • A 41-foot Utility Boat from Coast Guard Station Pensacola, Fla.
  • The Coast Guard Cutter Cobia, an 87-foot coastal patrol boat home ported in Mobile, Ala.
  • An HH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter from Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Mobile, Ala.
  • An HH-65C Dolphin rescue helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans

Knowingly and willfully communicating a false distress message to the Coast Guard or causing the Coast Guard to attempt to save lives and property when no help is needed can include jail time, fines, civil penalties and reimbursement to the Coast Guard for the cost of performing the search.

It costs the Coast Guard approximately $400 per hour to operate a rescue boat to search, and from $1,500 to $3,000 per hour for aircraft and cutters to search. False distress calls can costs taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Hoax and false distress calls also put the general public at risk, because search and rescue crews may not be available to save someone who is in real danger, while responding to false distress.

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