The United States Coast Guard now believes that two hoax phone calls falsey reporting a yacht explosion in Sandy Hook last week may be linked to a similar May 20 incident in Texas.
Two distress calls were received by the Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service New York on June 11 at about 4:20 p.m. The caller described himself as the master of the yacht "Blind Date" and reported that the boat had exploded with 21 people on board, according to a press release from the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard believes the same man placed both calls.
The report of the yacht explosion 17 nautical miles offshore also indicated that nine victims had suffered severe burns. The false report prompted a widespread, multi-agency emergency response to Sandy Hook, including ambulances from multiple area communities, several helicopters, two Coast Guard boat crews, four Coast Guard aircraft crews, response units from the New York City Police Department, New York City Fire Department, New Jersey State Police, and Nassau County Police Department.
Civilian boats also participated in the five-and-a-half-hour, 638-square-nautical-mile search, according to the press release.
No victims or debris were found during the search.
Investigators now believe that the June 11 distress calls related to the Sandy Hook incident are connected to a similar false report of a sinking fishing vessel in Texas.
At about 1:15 p.m. on May 20 near Galveston, Texas, the Coast Guard responded to distress call reporting that a fishing vessel named either "Skylark" or "Scallywag" was sinking, according to a May press release. The caller reported that the six people on board were abandoning ship and getting into an orange life boat.
Galveston is just outside of Houston and is bordered by both the Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
The Coast Guard used several boats, a helicopter and an aircraft to search an area of water the size of Delaware and at no point found the boat, the liferaft, or the passengers, according to the press release.
The Coast Guard indicated that there are at least five major similarities between the two incidents.
Investigators believe both calls originated from land. With the Sandy Hook case, the release said, Coast Guard equipment tracked the calls to an area from the north shore of Staten Island, over New Jersey to near the George Washington Bridge.
In both incidents, the caller specfically contacted a Coast Guard vessel traffic service. Typically, when a boater is in distress they will ask for the Coast Guard in general or send out a mayday call on VHF channel 16, the known emergency frequency, according to the release.
The same terminology, voice, and manner of speaking were used for both calls, according to the Coast Guard. Not all of the terminology used was standard for a nautical or non-military mariner, Coast Guard officials said.
In both cases, the caller specifically stated the boat was "taking on water," not sinking, used "souls" to describe the people aboard, and used "beacon" to describe a supposed automatic signaling device on liferafts, according to the Coast Guard.
"The caller also reportedly gave emergency personnel very specific locations of distress and distances while at the same time exhibiting throughout the calls unfamiliarity with the area," the press release said.
"The Coast Guard Investigative Service is is offering for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the person responsible for making a false distress call to the Coast Guard," it added. "Anyone with information regarding this probable hoax is encouraged to anonymously contact CGIS at 212-668-7048 or 646-872-5774."