Rescuers: Passaic River Distress Call a Hoax

Thursday, Oct 11, 2012  |  Updated 11:50 PM EDT
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The US Coast Guard says they received a call last night about three people in a sinking boat in the Passaic River but it turned out to be a false alarm. Ida Siegal reports

NBC 4 New York

The US Coast Guard says they received a call last night about three people in a sinking boat in the Passaic River but it turned out to be a false alarm. Ida Siegal reports

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A call made to the Coast Guard describing a boat in distress on the Passaic River was a hoax, the lead investigator said Thursday after crews searched in vain for several hours for the boat and possible survivors.

Fairfield Deputy Police Chief Anthony Manna said crews from his town's and nearby Lincoln Park's fire departments, as well as state police marine and aviation personnel, searched for three hours late Wednesday and then from 8:30 a.m. to about 1 p.m. Thursday without finding any sign of a vessel.

The water level wasn't even conducive to boating, Manna said.

"We couldn't even get rescue boats in at some points, the river was so low," he said. "There were no reports of people missing; there were no boat trailers on the sides of the shore."

The seven-second call was received at a Coast Guard station in New York around 9:45 p.m. Wednesday, Coast Guard spokeswoman Sondra Rivera said. The caller said that the boat had three people aboard and was taking on water and sinking, and that its battery was dying.

The call broke off before a trace was possible, Rivera said.

In June, a caller radioed the Coast Guard and said three people were dead and others injured or in the water after a yacht explosion off Sandy Hook. But no boat was found, and authorities later determined the call came from land. Authorities later said the search cost about $300,000.

A week later, a Coast Guard helicopter was dispatched and searched an area off Cape May after a radio call went out stating, "Mayday, mayday, is anyone there?" and providing the vessel's location. The search yielded no boat.

Manna said his department would enlist the public's help to find whoever placed Wednesday night's call.

"We're going to expend as much resources as we can," he said. "If we do catch them, we will prosecute them to the full extent of the law. The taxpayers in New Jersey don't need this on their plate right now."

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