Coast Guard Investigates Possible Link Between NJ, Texas Boat Hoax Calls

Coast Guard officials said they are investigating suspicious similarities between the two calls and trying to see if they are connected

By Katherine Creag, Katy Tur and Shimon Prokupecz
|  Wednesday, Jun 20, 2012  |  Updated 12:46 PM EDT
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Coast Guard officials are investigating a possible link between last week's hoax call reporting a yacht explosion in Sandy Hook, N.J. and another recent hoax call in the waters near Galveston, Texas. Katy Tur has the details.

NBC 4 New York

Coast Guard officials are investigating a possible link between last week's hoax call reporting a yacht explosion in Sandy Hook, N.J. and another recent hoax call in the waters near Galveston, Texas. Katy Tur has the details.

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Audio: Yacht Explosion Hoax Distress Call

Coast Guard officials released partial audio of a false distress call about a yacht exploding off Sandy Hook, N.J., which prompted an extensive search costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
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Coast Guard officials are investigating a possible link between last week's false distress call reporting a yacht explosion in Sandy Hook, N.J. and another recent hoax call off the waters of Galveston, Texas, NBC 4 New York first reported Tuesday.

Coast Guard officials said at a news conference Wednesday they are investigating suspicious similarities between the two calls and trying to see if they are connected, including whether the same male caller made them.

In last Monday's false distress call, a man contacted the Coast Guard on a radio line, reporting an explosion on a boat called the Blind Date about 17 nautical miles east of Sandy Hook.

The caller described himself as the captain in the 20-second call.

"We have 21 souls on board, 20 in the water right now. I have three deceased on board, nine injured because of the explosion we've had... I'm going to stay by the radio as long as I can before I have to go overboard," the caller says in the audio clip released by the Coast Guard. 

Listen to the audio here.

In a similar distress call in Galveston, Texas in April, a man told the Coast Guard, "This is fishing vessel Scallywag. We're about two miles from the channel... We have an on-board emergency. We are taking on water, sir."

Authorities point out the same terminology was used by both callers and included nonstandard nautical phrases like "taking on water," instead of "sinking." The callers used "souls" to describe the people on board and "beacon" to described a supposed automatic signaling device on life rafts.

In both cases, the callers specifically contacted a Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service and said their GPS systems weren't working. In most distress cases, callers ask for the general Coast Guard or dial into a known emergency frequency, officials said.

Both hoax calls seemed to originate from land and the voice and manner of speaking were similar in both incidents, officials said. The calls sparked massive search and rescue efforts that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Coast Guard Capt. Gregory Hitchen said Wednesday that a reporter from the Houston area called its investigative unit after learning of the hoax call in New Jersey.

The Texas case had not been declared a hoax when it was made in April, but was classified as an unresolved distress call, Hitchen said. Investigators listened to the audio and "put together enough similarities," he added.

Dennis Walsh, a retired NYPD detective and a forensic audio expert, said while the voice print won’t necessarily identify the caller, it can help with the investigation.

“It makes the interview evidence process easier because it’s really cogent evidence to lay a voice print in front of a suspect,” said Walsh.

Hitchen urged anyone with information about either call to contact investigators.

"These cases are very difficult to solve without help from the public," he said.

There is currently a $3,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest and prosecution of someone involved in the New Jersey call.

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