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1/17/2014 9:13:00 AM
Coast Guard Suspends Search, Authorities Investigate Possible Hoax

By J.W. Oliver

The U.S. Coast Guard has suspended its search for a sailboat in distress off Pemaquid Point as authorities investigate whether the report was a hoax.

A helicopter out of U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod searches for a sailboat in distress off Pemaquid Point at 8:50 a.m., Friday, Jan. 17. The search has been
A helicopter out of U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod searches for a sailboat in distress off Pemaquid Point at 8:50 a.m., Friday, Jan. 17. The Coast Guard suspended the search at 3:20 p.m. (Sherrie Tucker photo)
A 911 call about a man in a sinking sailboat off Pemaquid Point and another person in the water prompted a massive search by air, land and sea this morning.

If the call was a hoax, the man responsible could face criminal charges.

"It's a pretty high standard to meet to prove something was a willful hoax, but the Coast Guard has done that in the past," Lt. Scott McCann said.

The Coast Guard, in the case of a hoax, could attempt to recover the expense of the search from the responsible party, which would add up to a substantial sum.

The actual cost will take some time to calculate. "It's a long process, so we're not going to have that number for a while," McCann said.

"It's the taxpayers' money we spend going out there searching for the guys, so if we do that, we want to make sure we're searching for someone who's actually in distress," McCann said.

Authorities have expressed doubt about the report since the early hours of the search.

"We don't know how reliable the source is right now," Bristol 1st Assistant Fire Chief Jared Pendleton said at the scene this morning. "The sheriff's office is trying to locate him right now so we can do an extensive interview and get more firsthand information."

A few hours later, Maine Marine Patrol personnel shared a similar view.

"It appears we received a lot of misinformation," Maine Marine Patrol Lt. Rene Cloutier said. "We're trying to confirm that."

"An officer is doing an interview as we speak," Cloutier said. "We don't know a lot about whether there was actually a boat missing or not."

The initial report came in at 5:28 a.m., according to Pendleton.

A father and son were aboard a sinking, 23-foot sailboat, according to the report. The son was able to make it to shore with a life ring, but the father was going to attempt to make shore in South Bristol.

"The father was on the boat, taking on water, and supposedly trying to make the next harbor, South Bristol, is what we were told," Pendleton said. "We found no people, no debris, no boat, no nothing."

The only physical evidence the searchers have is the life ring, which they found deployed from the lighthouse, stretching toward the water.

The man who reported the incident claimed to have "direct phone contact with the boat," Pendleton said. "He knew the son had got ashore, on board this life ring, and he knew the father, by talking with the father aboard the boat, was still trying to go by boat, and that's all we have to go on."

The identity of the father and son and the name and port of the sailboat were not available. The boat was en route from Massachusetts to the Bristol area, according to the report.

An HC-144 Casa airplane and an MH-60 helicopter out of U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod and a 47-foot boat out of Coast Guard Station Boothbay Harbor participated in the search, along with several fishing boats. About 30-40 people searched the shoreline within 1-2 miles of the point, Pendleton said.

The Bristol and Damariscotta fire departments, the Central Lincoln County Ambulance Service, Lincoln County Communications, the Lincoln County Search and Rescue Team, the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office and Maine Marine Patrol were also at the scene this morning.

The Coast Guard search covered 831 nautical miles by 3:20 p.m., when it suspended the search "pending further developments," according to a statement by the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard urges anyone with information about the case to call the Coast Guard Sector Northern New England Command Center at 207-767-0302.

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