Coast Guard: Similarities in Texas, NJ hoax calls

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by VERENA DOBNIK

Associated Press

Posted on June 20, 2012 at 10:34 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 20 at 1:35 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Similarities in a caller's voice and phrasings have led the Coast Guard to believe there could be a link between a hoax distress call reporting a yacht explosion off New Jersey and a mayday call in Texas last month, an official said Wednesday.

There's no guarantee it was the same man making the calls, but there are "enough similarities" that the Coast Guard is investigating that possibility, with help from other government agencies, Coast Guard Capt. Gregory Hitchen said. Among other things, a voice expert has been analyzing the calls.

The New Jersey hoax call came in around 4:20 p.m. on June 11. The caller claimed there were three dead, nine injured and 20 in the water off Sandy Hook, N.J.

Nothing was found, and authorities later determined the call came from land.

Last month, the Coast Guard searched for six people reported missing after a mayday call saying they were abandoning their sinking fishing boat in the waters off Galveston, Texas.

Hitchen said similarities between the two calls include the fact that both came over a high-frequency channel to the Coast Guard "vessel traffic service" not usually used for distress calls.

The captain said the caller used "unique language." In addition to words like "souls" describing those supposedly on board, the man in both calls said his antenna was down, and he therefore could not give a precise position. And in both calls, the Coast Guard was told that the people on board were getting into an orange life raft.

Hitchen said the cost to taxpayers of responses to false distress calls runs into thousands of dollars, at least. The "Blind Date" yacht rescue effort topped $300,000, he said. He had no immediate estimate for the Galveston rescue operations, which lasted 36 hours.

But he said all such hoaxes "divert assets from real emergencies."

Hitchen said it's very difficult to solve such cases without witnesses, but hoax perpetrators "do brag about it in certain cases" — and he hopes that might happen again.

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