(SANDY HOOK, N.J.) — The Coast Guard called off the search Monday evening for a reported yacht explosion in the Atlantic Ocean about 17.5 miles east of Sandy Hook, N.J., saying the call is now being investigated as a hoax.
A caller had told the Coast Guard that there had been an explosion on a yacht called Blind Date, and nine of the 21 passengers had received severe burns. All the passengers had gotten off the boat and were in life boats, the caller said.
But after an extensive search, neither a flotilla of rescue boats nor a flight of helicopters could find any evidence of the vessel Blind Date or any wreckage from an explosion, according to the Coast Guard. No victims had been found, either.
“This case is now being investigated as a possible hoax call,” the Coast Guard said in a statement released Monday evening.
Making a false distress call is a federal felony with a maximum penalty of five to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and reimbursement to the Coast Guard for the cost of performing the search.
“More than 200 first responders assembled mass casualty receptions areas in Newark, and Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook, N.J., preparing to receive the reported injured passengers,” said Cmdr. Kenneth Pierro, of Coast Guard Sector New York.
Two Coast Guard boat crews and four Coast Guard helicopter crews searched approximately 638 square nautical miles in response to the call.
Response units from New York City Police Department, Fire Department of New York City, New Jersey State Police and Nassau County Police Department also conducted searches in the area.
“The explosion was reported to us by one of the people on board the vessel after it happened from a solar powered radio, because their electronics on board were destroyed during the explosion,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Erik Swanson said.
Officials with several agencies involved in the search said told ABC News it is “highly unusual” to be unable to locate any debris or find any survivors when they receive such a clear position and respond as quickly as they did in this case.
ABC News reached the owners of the yachts Blind Date and Blind Date II, and both said their boats were not lost at sea. The owner of the Blind Date II, however, said there is another yacht called Blind Date that is moored in the Netherlands.
The Coast Guard offers a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of anyone responsible for making a false distress or hoax call to the U.S. Coast Guard. Anyone with information regarding false distress calls is encouraged to anonymously contact the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service at 646-872-5774 or 212-668-7048.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Ben Winslow, CNN
Kathryn Vasel, CNN
Kevin Quinn, ABC 13
Amy La Porte, CNN