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Coast Guard ends search for ‘missing’ boaters

The Coast Guard has called off a search for nine missing boaters off the coast of Florida. Authorities voiced concerns that the  distress call that led to the search might have been a hoax.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Coast Guard is looking into whether a phone call claiming a boat with nine people was sinking might have been a hoax.

After searching about 24 hours off the coast of Boynton Beach, Florida, they’ve called it off.

“There are some elements that just don’t add up,” Lt. Cmdr. Chris O’Neil said. “If you listen to that tape, the voice of that person doesn’t sound like he’s particularly stressed.”

Two pieces of a boat, plus some garbage, were found, but officials don’t know if they came from the boat in question.

No record of boat found
The Coast Guard began searching the coastal waters after receiving the radio distress call late Sunday from a man who said the 33-foot powerboat called Blue Sheep was sinking.

“My lights are flickering on my radio. I’m taking on water. What do you want me to do?” the man calmly asked, according to a recording of the call released Monday afternoon.

“The whole back of the boat is submerged,” the man said. “We have nine people on board. Everybody’s in life jackets.”

The man said the passengers included four children. He said the boat was named Blue Sheep, and he identified himself and his wife as John and Carol Tobin. He added that his wife had broken her leg and was bleeding profusely.

No record of a boat named Blue Sheep was found in Florida or elsewhere, and the identifications of the couple didn’t check out, the Coast Guard said.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said a couple by that name once lived near Fort Lauderdale but have since moved to New Jersey where they were found safe on Monday and had not been on any boat in Florida.

‘I find it unusual ... ’
A piece of wreckage was found Monday on a beach a few miles away, but no other trace of a vessel had turned up.

“There have been no other debris sightings,” O’Neil said. “There’s any number of things that are going to float on the surface, coolers, seat cushions. ... I find it unusual that we haven’t found any signs of wreckage.”

O’Neil said it was also unusual that authorities had not received any calls from relatives of any missing boaters.

After receiving the call at about 10:50 p.m. Sunday, the Coast Guard and local agencies sent three helicopters, a C-130 airplane and several boats on the search along a 50-mile stretch from St. Lucie County to Boynton Beach.

Waves were 3 to 4 feet Sunday night in the area where the boat purportedly sank, about 50 miles north of Miami. Conditions were much the same Monday but were expected to deteriorate as Tropical Storm Alberto approached Florida from the west.