NJ Yacht Hoax Linked to Texas Prank

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Coast Guard announced today that the hoax distress call made on June 11 by a man claiming to be the captain of a yacht that exploded off the coast of Sandy Hook, N.J., was linked to another hoax call made in Texas May 20.

The case of the Houston-area vessel, the Skylark, came to the attention of New York area Coast Guard investigators only recently because the incident had been classified as unresolved rather than a hoax. The smaller-scale hoax, a distress call for six people, had many similarities to the Sandy Hook call, which involved more than 20 people.

Both calls came from a land-based radio, both specifically contacted a specific Coast Guard radio channel, and both came over a VHF frequency.

Special Agent Michael Donnelly of the Coast Guard Investigative Service said there were clear linguistic similarities between the calls. The voices were almost identical, and the person speaking used nautical expressions such as “taking on water” and referred to the passengers on board as “souls.”

The rescue effort in Sandy Hook cost more than $85,000 and occupied the time of more than 200 responders as well as a fleet of helicopters and boats.

“I’ve been here since 2007, and this is the biggest hoax in regard to the number of helicopters and folks who had actually responded to the scene,” Capt. Gregory Hitchen said the day after the incident.

The New York Coast Guard believes the Sandy Hook call originated from an area that stretches from northern Staten Island to the George Washington Bridge. The size of the area makes it unlikely the investigation will find the prankster, so the Coast Guard is calling on the public to help, offering a $3,000 reward for information leading to the prosecution of the offender.

Asked today whether suspects involved in these types of hoaxes boasted about their crimes, Hitchen said, “They do brag about it.”

If found and convicted, the offender could face up to six years in prison.

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