The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating a hoax distress call Wednesday that came through its Jacksonville command center and led to a two-hour search in Flagler Beach.
"Mayday, mayday, mayday," was heard in the center just after noon over VHF-FM marine radio channel 16. The call from an unidentified man, then went dead.
The Coast Guard's Rescue 21 system, a direction-finding system designed to better locate mariners in distress, gave two intersecting lines of bearing in Flagler Beach indicating the call may have originated in the Intracoastal Waterway.
A crew from Coast Guard Station Ponce De Leon Inlet in New Smyrna Beach and Flagler County's Fire Flight helicopter were dispatched. Boaters in the area were also asked to help search.
An employee at Flagler Beach boat yard called the command center two hours later to report someone witnessed a worker there make the distress call from a vessel. The unidentified man was interviewed by investigators, but no arrests were reported.
It is a felony for anyone to knowingly and willfully communicate a false distress message to the Coast Guard.
"This incident was a teachable moment for all involved and should serve as a reminder to the public of how quickly a 3-second hoax call may escalate into a full-blown emergency and law enforcement response," said Coast Guard Special Agent Randal Thompson. "The man who made the call told me he was embarrassed by the whole situation and didn't realize the severity of his actions until it was too late."
The call led authorities to be placed in unnecessary danger and cost time and money, the Coast Guard said in a news release.
"Making false distress calls limits the Coast Guard and our rescue partners' capabilities to assist boaters who are in actual emergency situations," said Capt. Tom Allan, commander of Sector Jacksonville. "They are a waste of time and resources and place first responders in unnecessary danger as they work to assist people who don't really need our help."