Coast Guard releases new information in New Jersey probable hoax case

NEW YORK – The Coast Guard continues to investigate a probable hoax distress call that was received June 11, 2012, alleging a yacht explosion off Sandy Hook, N.J.

Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service New York received the distress call at approximately 4:20 p.m., reportedly from the master of the yacht Blind Date, stating the vessel suffered an explosion with 21 people aboard.

A massive, multi-agency search took place 17 nautical miles east of Sandy Hook, and involved two Coast Guard boat crews, four Coast Guard aircraft crews, response units from New York City Police Department, Fire Department of New York City, New Jersey State Police, and Nassau County Police Department. Good Samaritan boats also participated in the 5 1/2-hour, 638-square nautical mile search.

Coast Guard Investigative Service New York believes there may be a connection to a similar unresolved distress call in the Houston, Texas area, May 20, 2012.

Some of the similarities of the two cases include:

1. Both calls seem to originate from land. With the Sandy Hook case, Coast Guard direction finding equipment points to an area from the north shore of Staten Island, over New Jersey to near the George Washington Bridge.

2. The caller specifically contacted a Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service in both cases. Typically when a person is in distress they will ask for the Coast Guard in general or hail mayday on VHF channel 16, the known emergency frequency.

3. The same terminology was used in both the Houston and Sandy Hook case, and not all of it was standard nautical/non-military mariner terminology. The caller, for both cases specifically stated they were “taking on water,” not sinking. He used “souls” to describe the people aboard and “beacon” to describe a supposed automatic signaling device on liferafts.

4. The caller in both cases gave very specific locations of distress and distances, while at the same time exhibiting throughout the calls unfamiliarity with the area and/or using references to location that a boat captain typically wouldn’t use.

5. Voice and manner of speaking were similar for both calls.

“Within the first 24 hours of the response in Sector Houston Galveston, we became suspicious that this call was a hoax because of a few oddities. One, it was called into vessel traffic service Houston-Galveston over Channel 11, two, the distressed vessel’s master easily switched to channel 16, and three, none of our SAR assets found vessel debris. That being said, we had no tangible evidence as we have had in previous hoax cases in the Eighth Coast Guard District. We continued to search on this case with the typical zest, zeal, and vigor that we search on all SAR cases to try to locate and rescue the six reported missing persons,” said Capt. Ed Cubanski, chief of the Eighth Coast Guard District incident management branch, located in New Orleans, which overseas operations throughout the Gulf Coast.

The Coast Guard Investigative Service is asking for the public’s help. A $3,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the person responsible for making a false distress call to the Coast Guard. Anyone with information regarding this probable hoax is encouraged to anonymously contact CGIS at 212-668-7048 or 646-872-5774.

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