False distress signal triggers search by Coast Guard, Watch Hill firefighters

False distress signal triggers search by Coast Guard, Watch Hill firefighters

The Westerly Sun

A search for a possible boat in distress between Watch Hill Point and Block Island was called off Thursday after the U.S. Coast Guard determined that flare signals seen overnight were fired improperly.

Members of the Watch Hill Fire Department and personnel with U.S. Coast Guard stations in New London and Point Judith were activated around 1 a.m. Thursday after receiving multiple reports of a boat sending flares into the sky somewhere on the water between Napatree and Fishers Island, N.Y.

Watch Hill Fire Chief Robert Peacock said as his department began responding, firefighters operating a rescue boat witnessed two additional flares go off in rapid succession several miles offshore in the area between Watch Hill Point and Block Island.

Peacock said the flares triggered an emergency search and rescue response with the Coast Guard, which dispatched a rescue helicopter and a C-130 aircraft from Cape Cod to aid in the search.

“Our crews searched the water for about three hours before efforts were finally scaled back,” Peacock said. “The search was eventually called off in full around 10:30 a.m. after the Coast Guard received new information.”

Officials with the Coast Guard confirmed that the information, which included evidence such as floating trash and a disposable cooler, revealed there was no emergency. The signals have now been classified as a false report of distress, although the person who launched the flares has not been identified. The case remains under investigation.

According to the Coast Guard website, anyone who knowingly makes false distress calls can face potentially heavy penalties and reimbursement to the Coast Guard for the cost of performing the search. The average cost of launching a Coast Guard response boat is about $4,500 per hour, while costs associated with use of a Coast Guard helicopter can run as high $16,000 per hour.



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