Hoax emergency calls radioed to the U.S. Coast Guard

Hoax emergency calls radioed to the U.S. Coast Guard

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DETROIT (WJBK) -

Someone is targeting the local Coast Guard with phony emergency calls.  The person pretends to be in distress on the water, but it's nothing more than a dangerous hoax.

The Coast Guard command center in Detroit jumped into action when this mayday call came in over the emergency radio channel:

"Mayday, mayday, my boat's sinking in Lake Erie."

There have been similar other calls.  Each time the Coast Guard responded with a full scale search, but nothing ever turned up.  The calls were hoaxes.

These hoax calls for help began in late 2010.

"In many of the calls, he's reporting his vessel in distress.  He's reporting that he's sinking in Lake Erie.  He's reporting that in one of the calls his airplane is in distress and crashing in Lake Erie," said Lieutenant Justin Westmiller.   "During a few of those calls, we knew that we were in the middle of winter on Lake Erie and that most of Lake Erie was frozen."

Judging by the strength of the radio signal, the Coast Guard determined a general area where the distress calls were made.

"We were able to determine through various methods that at least the vast majority of them were coming in from the Bolles Harbor / Monroe, Michigan area," said Special Agent Ryan Warnke.

The phony calls for help included reports of a vessel fire.

Now every time the Coast Guard jumps into action, even if it's a hoax, Coast Guard members are at considerable risk.

"We're moving people, we're moving vessels, we're moving aircraft, and in all of those operations they're inherently dangerous.  We like to keep those to operations where we know that they're required and necessary," Westmiller explained.

A hoax call for help is a felony and it may keep the Coast Guard from responding to a real emergency.

"One of the reasons why we suspected that these were fraudulent, in a normal emergency situation, the person is going to want to give the Coast Guard or the sheriff's department, whoever answers, as much information as possible, including their position, and this person never once gave a physical area where he was," Warnke said.

How many people are making these hoax calls?  It could be one person or perhaps two.  They're really not sure.

There is a $1,000 if you have information leading to an arrest.  Call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-SPEAK-UP.

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