FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla.- A frantic call for help sent the Coast Guard scrambling off Fort Myers Beach Sunday night.
Authorities say the call of a sunken sailboat may have been a hoax and ended up costing taxpayers more than $150,000.
The Coast Guard received the call of a man believed to be in serious danger about 4 miles off of Fort Myers Beach saying “I’m wearing a red and black life vest, a red and black life vest.”
Officials got the call at 6 p.m. Sunday and searched for four hours, without finding anything.
“It’s treated as an actual distress, we will launch and search until we find someone or the search is suspended,” said Petty Officer Second Class Jesse Ameigh.
The Coast Guard is now investigating the call as a hoax.
“That’s another thing the Coast Guard takes into account when determining a hoax call, the frequency of the call, it was over and over,” said Petty Officer Shea Currington.
Authorities say not only did the person make several radio calls, but the Coast Guard says they traced them back to land, not on the water.
“It’s not a joke, it’s not funny, you are diverting life-saving boats to something that’s not there.”
Multiple agencies put nearly a dozen boats in the water and the Coast Guard sent in a helicopter from St. Petersburg, costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.
For this particular call, the Coast Guard had two boats on the water at over $10,000 per hour and the cost for the helicopter nearly $15,000 per hour. That totals more than $150,000 just for this search.
“People are going there and risking their lives, so I don’t think this is fair to do this call, sit at home and laugh at the people who are out on the ocean risking their lives.”
The penalties for making hoax calls are steep, they include six years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.