Was it an expensive hoax or has a Californian family including two young children been lost at sea?
A Hercules C-130 spent two days searching for the missing ’family’ sailing off the Californian coastline.
The Coast Guard this week called off the search for a boat that may have sunk in turbulent seas far off the 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 told media outlets. The Coast Guard is treating the incident as a rescue, with the possibility the calls came from a trickster.
If it was real, then a couple with a small child and his cousin have been lost at sea in a boat named, according to radio messages, Charmblow. If it was a hoax it was another example of costly time and money being wasted by rescuers.
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 sailing boat was taking on water and their electronics were failing. The two-day 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 'family' stayed in touch with rescuers, describing how their boat was taking on water, then that they planned to abandon ship 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 boat had no working GPS system, but investigators were able to use its radio signal and radar to determine the call came from an area about 60 miles west of the coastline, where strong winter winds, cold water and big swells made for perilous conditions. Forecasters had issued a weekend advisory warning boaters of rough seas in the area.
After the notification that the family was to abandon the yacht, no further transmissions were detected. Waters in the area at this time of year are at about 50 degrees, so that survival time in the water would not exceed an hour without a survival suit or wetsuit.
Investigators determined from the broken distress calls that the family included a husband and wife, their 4-year-old son and his cousin, Coast Guard Lt. Heather Lampert has said.
Sunday's choppy conditions had smoothed to flat, glossy seas by Tuesday, and in harbors, neither officials nor boaters had heard of a vessel called 'Charmblow.'
Capt. Gene Maly, a 40-year veteran of sailing who runs a charter sailboat out of Monterey, it's possible that ill-prepared sailors set out without the proper training and equipment.
'It could be that these people are neophytes and had no clue,' he said. 'The last thing you want to do is abandon ship.'
Maly, who carries backup GPS navigators and extra life vests and radar systems, said he lives by the missive: 'Those that do not respect the sea will surely die. Those that respect the sea will only die now and then.'
Maritime safety expert Mitchell Stoller, a former Los Angeles harbor pilot and supertanker captain, said several safety items could have meant the difference between life and death: an inflatable life raft and an EPIRB, which costs no more than $200.
No family that responds to the description has been reported missing.