Bogus distress call costs thousands

Posted: Thursday, January 02, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- An unidentified man made what appeared to be a bogus distress call Wednesday, taking the Coast Guard, Alaska State Troopers and other law enforcement agencies on a long, costly hunt around Kachemak Bay.

The search lasted 13 hours and involved several Coast Guard aircraft, a cutter and more than 40 Coast Guard personnel, the agency said.

''That's an awful lot of public funding that's gone out on this thing, among the various public agencies,'' Petty Officer Douglas Green said. ''That's a lot of tax dollars.''

The incident began about 2 a.m. when a call was placed on a radio frequency used by the Seldovia Police Department, Green said.

The caller, a man who used the name David Powell, said he had been on a fishing vessel, the Rosebud, which crashed into Sixty Foot Rock, some seven miles south of Homer, according to the Coast Guard.

The man told dispatchers the vessel sank with another adult and five children aboard, Green said. The man said he was radioing from Cohen Island, about a mile south of Sixty Foot Rock. He said he swam there.

Seldovia police notified the Coast Guard, which launched a C-130 aircraft and an H-60 helicopter from Air Station Kodiak ''for what we think is people in the water that are dying,'' said Lt. Stephen Snyder in Kodiak.

A second C-130 and another chopper, an H-65 Dolphin, as well as a Coast Guard cutter also participated in the search, Snyder said.

Searchers could not find the caller, survivors or evidence of a sunken boat. The caller continued into the afternoon talking on the same frequency, but giving conflicting data, Green said.

''At various times he gave out different lights he was seeing, and not all of them corresponded to Cohen Island,'' Green told the Anchorage Daily News. ''At one point, the gentleman said he had a broken leg and could not come out to meet us. Another time he said he was moving into a shelter and then he came back out.''

The man did not give any details about the people aboard the vessel, and gave his name only when pressed, Green said. Investigators drew a ''complete blank'' on the name, he said.

The caller gave an Anchorage phone number for his parents that turned out to be the number of a person with a different last name.

About 1:15 p.m., the Coast Guard decided the emergency was a hoax.

Alaska State Troopers and the Homer and Seldovia police departments were also involved in the search, Green said.

The radio signal was traced to what appeared to be a group of homes in the Seldovia area, but instead it was coming from a repeater, he said.

Last radio contact with the man was at 3 p.m.

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