Coast Guard looking for man suspected of making 8 false maydays in California

U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Helicopter Training Team Los Angeles.


By CHRIS HAIRE | The Orange County Register (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 10, 2018

The U.S. Coast Guard has spent the last month looking for the aquatic version of the boy who cried wolf.

Since Jan. 3, an unknown man is suspected of making eight mayday radio calls to the Coast Guard’s Los Angeles command center, a felony that could land the caller in prison for up to six years.

Such fake maydays, officials say, wastes resources and can put rescuers in danger.

“Coast Guard operations are inherently dangerous and our servicemembers face risks every time we launch for a search-and-rescue mission,” said Capt. Charlene Downey, the Los Angeles-Long Beach commander. “Limited resources should not be diverted away from legitimate emergencies.”

In one of the recordings, released this week by the Coast Guard as it seeks the public’s help in finding the suspect, a male’s voice spits out the universal distress signal rapid-fire: “Mayday, mayday, mayday. … Mayday, mayday, mayday.”

The accent of his voice appears to change between bursts.

Other recordings from the past two weeks are undergoing forensic voice analysis, the Coast Guard said in a statement.

The man made the calls to Channel 16, the international channel for communicating distress signals to the Coast Guard, law enforcement and other mariners, Petty Officer DeVante Marrow said. The Coast Guard monitors that channel 24 hours a day.

It is unknown if the man made the calls from the sea or from land.

“The calls were only one to three seconds long, so they couldn’t get a bearing on it,” Marrow said about why officials couldn’t track the calls. “When you have the search-and-rescue calls, they try to get out as much information as possible. In this case, he just said, ‘mayday.’”

The Coast Guard typically sends out crews anytime a mayday call comes in – and they will keep looking until they determine a call is fake. The released call did not cite a location.

How the Coast Guard determined these calls were fake is unclear, but Marrow said the commanders have criteria they follow to determine a call’s legitimacy.

Besides a prison sentence, someone convicted of making a false distress call could face a $250,000 fine and a $10,000 civil penalty and have to repay agency costs.

“The Coast Guard aims to promote safety and effectively manage our resources,” Downey said. “The risks posed by false distress calls must be stemmed.”

©2018 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
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