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February 27, 2013

Report of sinking could be hoax

SANTA CRUZ, Calif — The Pacific Ocean either swallowed an adventurous couple and two young children aboard a sailboat off the Monterey coast this week, or someone played a cruel hoax that wasted Coast Guard resources and tugged at the hearts of coastal residents over two days of desperate searching.

The Coast Guard on Tuesday called off the search for a boat that reportedly sank in rough seas far off the Central California coast, saying nothing more could be done and that the family’s distress calls might have been a hoax.

“We’ve exhausted the possibilities,” Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Mike Lutz said. The Coast Guard is treating the incident as a rescue, with the possibility the calls came from a trickster. Neither the family nor the boat has been reported missing.

Crews started looking for the family by sea and air after receiving their first distress call Sunday afternoon, when the boaters said their 29-foot sailboat was taking on water and their electronics were failing. The 42-hour search involved hundreds of rescuers from the Coast Guard and the California Air National Guard. A Hercules C-130 four-engine turboprop aircraft buzzed above the seas, while helicopters, cutters and lifeboats plied the waters, as costs soared into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The sailboat had no working GPS system, but investigators used its radio signal and radar to determine the call came from an area about 60 miles west of Monterey, where strong winter winds, cold water and big swells made for perilous conditions.

An hour later, the family members reported they had to abandon the boat and were trying to tie together a makeshift life raft out of a cooler and life-preserver ring, a method taught in survival classes. The Coast Guard then lost radio contact with the boat, which the agency said might have been called the “Charmblow.”

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