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Coast Guard sends search team to flare sighting on Kenai

Posted: July 8, 2013 - 10:09pm

The U.S. Coast Guard responded to two emergency flares on the Kenai River Friday after receiving a report of a flare sighting from the Kenai tower at about 9:30 p.m.

The Coast Guard dispatched an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Kodiak to the area to search for the source of the flares. The Kenai Police Department also conducted a search, Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class and Coast Guard spokesperson Sara Mooers said.

The search party flew from the mouth of the Kenai River to Bridge Access Road and back covering 8 square nautical miles twice. The search was suspended after three hours.

Mooers said the search conditions were optimal.

A total of 60 commercial anchored vessels were located during the search, but none were in distress. Mooers said it is possible someone set off the emergency flares in celebration of Fourth of July weekend.

Mooers said MH-60 Jawyhawk helicopters costs $14,519 per hour, the expense of which is absorbed into the Coast Guard operating cost funded by tax payers.

The Coast Guard usually only requires reimbursement for cases like this if it is proved to be a hoax distress call. Civil and federal fines are also applied to those types of cases, Mooers said.

“We have a responsibility to respond to potential distress calls and with flares,” Mooers said. “You never know what’s out there. You don’t know if it’s distress or non-distress, so we always launch and we always investigate flares and (emergency beacons) frequently — especially here in Alaska. If people are setting those off, they don’t have any other means of communication and the elements here are very unforgiving. Time is of the essence, if you’re trying to rescue someone.”

Around the Fourth of July the Coast Guard tries to remind people not to use flares as fireworks. For people training with flares, Mooers said to notify Coast Guard where and when the practice will take place so resources are not dispatched unnecessarily.

No subsequent reports to the Coast Guard had been made in relation to the flare incident as of Monday afternoon.

Kaylee Osowski can be reached at kaylee.osowski@peninsulaclarion.com.

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