Link between Texas, N.J., distress calls probed
U.S. Coast Guard investigators have linked another hoax distress call -- this time from Galveston, Texas -- to the one made from Sandy Hook, N.J., in which the caller said a yacht had exploded with 21 people aboard.
"The voices sound similar," said Capt. Gregory P. Hitchen, a deputy Coast Guard commander in New York. The Texas distress call in May reported that a fishing boat was sinking with six people aboard.
At a news conference Wednesday Hitchen described the calls' similarities and said he thought the hoaxer would probably tell someone about his actions, leading to his arrest.
"They usually brag about it," he said. The hoaxer has a male voice and uses standard nautical language and nonmilitary mariner terminology, he added.
Hitchen said the caller used "taking on water" instead of sinking and "souls" for the number of people aboard the boat. He said "beacon" to describe a signaling device in both calls.
Last week, Coast Guard investigators determined a distress call from Blind Date, a yacht in Sandy Hook, was a hoax.
More than 200 first responders, including Coast Guard boat crews and helicopters, the NYPD, FDNY, New Jersey State Police and Nassau County Police, spent more than five hours searching for survivors over a 638-square-mile area in the Atlantic.
"He'll probably do it again, giving us more pieces to the puzzle," said Coast Guard Special Agent Michael Donnelly.
Both distress calls were made from land using a handheld portable device that is difficult to track, he said. "The calls could have been made on a train, a plane or even their living room," he said.
Making a false call is a federal felony with a maximum penalty of 5 to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, officials said.