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Were Distress Calls to Coast Guard a Hoax?

Emergency call from Sunday indicated two adults, two children abandoned ship in rough waters, but lack of further evidence raises doubts

By Bay City News Service

Distress calls to the U.S. Coast Guard on Sunday afternoon that were allegedly from a family with young children aboard a sinking boat off the coast of Monterey County may have been a hoax, Coast Guard officials said late this morning.

The U.S. Coast Guard has called off its search for a man, woman and two children at about 9:40 a.m. today.

Coast Guard boats and aircraft had been scouring the waters about 65 miles off the Monterey coast since about 4:20 p.m. Sunday, when the family made a distress call to Coast Guard Sector San Francisco.

The caller said he was on a boat, possibly named "Charmblow," with his wife, their 4-year-old son and the boy's young cousin. The man told the Coast Guard that the vessel's electronics system was failing, and then said over a choppy radio connection that the family had decided to abandon ship, according to the Coast Guard.

In the last dispatch from the boat at about 5:30 p.m. Sunday, the man said the family was trying to string together a cooler and a life ring to cling to. Petty Officer 2nd Class Barry Bena said there have been no missing-persons reports that would help identify the family.

After searching more than 22,000 square miles, nothing has turned up and there have been no missing-persons reports that would help identify the family, Petty Officer 2nd Class Barry Bena said.

"We want to think every case is legitimate," Bena said. "There is the possibility this is a hoax."

Chief Petty Officer Mike Lutz said the Coast Guard checked local marinas for information about a boat named "Charmblow" or something similar, to no avail.

The active search has been called off, however search and rescue experts are continuing to look into the mysterious distress calls and information about the boat and supposed passengers.

This story has been updated from an earlier posting.

Todd Eastman February 27, 2013 at 06:35 PM
I was a Coast Guard radioman for 6 years. As soon as I heard the audio recording of their "mayday" call, I knew it was a hoax. First of all, the man's voice was too calm. It sounded like he was reading from a script. Second, anyone who has spent more than a week as captain of a boat knows you don't literally call the Coast Guard on the radio. In a maritime emergency, the proper radio procedure is to say "Mayday" 3 times, your call-sign or vessel's name 3 times, your position/location, and what the problem is. Yes, the Coast Guard is the most likely to respond, but your mayday call is directed at anyone and everyone who can hear you in case you only get one transmission. The whole thing reeks of either an amateur sailor, or someone with a marine radio who wanted to "have a little fun."

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