JUNEAU (AP) -- A Coast Guard helicopter and at least three civilian crafts scrambled to aid a boat that was sinking off the coast of Yakutat only to find it was a hoax.
A 38-year-old man allegedly used a hand-held radio transmitter from land to tell rescuers that his boat was taking on water and four others were already in the water with inadequate floatation devices, Coast Guard officials said.
The man could face felony charges of false distress, Coast Guard officials said Thursday. He was questioned by authorities at Yakutat but was not taken into custody. Police and Coast Guard officials refused to release his name Thursday.
But John Waldron, village public safety officer, said the incident angered several in the town. Waldron would not say what motivated the man to make the call.
''There's a lot of townspeople who are upset about the situation because this is a fishing community. We rely on the Coast Guard for lifesaving situations,'' said Waldron.
The penalty for issuing a false distress call is up to six years in prison, fines of up to $5,000 and reimbursement for costs of the rescue run, the Coast Guard said.
Petty Officer Christopher Grisafe said the call hindered an actual emergency in which a 15-year-old Klawock boy was airlifted to Sitka with a head injury. The Coast Guard also said the hoax cost the Coast Guard $40,000. Two civilian boats and an airplane also responded to the call, Grisafe said.
''It's a pretty serious thing. We don't take it lightly,'' said Waldron.
The Coast Guard received the mayday call at about 4:40 p.m. and sent a helicopter from Sitka at about 5:30 p.m.
Grisafe said Tuesday's hoax was discovered after crews were able to trace the signal to a land-based transmitter. The search had lasted for between four and a half and five hours, he said.
The incident highlights a frequent problem faced by rescuers already stretched thinly along Alaska's waters. Hoax calls and false alarms frequently occupy the time of rescuers, Grisafe said.
''The majority of mayday calls we receive are not actually people in distress,'' Grisafe said. No statistics were available Thursday on the number of false runs, but there have been several in recent months.
In January, the Coast Guard issued a warning about false calls after receiving a rash of flare sightings and false maydays and in June its rescue station in Juneau was unable to respond to calls for several hours due to several overnight calls.
In May, rescuers searched for an hour in the vicinity of Juneau Harbor to trace an emergency radio beacon that was later found to have been activated while sitting on a retail store shelf.
Yakutat is located about 160 miles northwest of Juneau.
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