Coast Guard officials convinced of a hoax have called off a search for survivors launched in response to a distress call that a yacht exploded 17 miles off the Jersey shore. A flotilla of emergency response boats and helicopters found no evidence of an accident, including debris or injured passengers, reports the Star Ledger. A caller had reported that nine of 21 passengers were severely burned in the blast on board the Blind Date, and that all had escaped into life boats. "More than 200 first responders assembled mass casualty receptions areas in Newark, and the Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook, preparing to receive the injured passengers," said a Coast Guard spokesman. Two Coast Guard boat crews and four helicopters, along with multiple volunteer boats, searched 640 square nautical miles, reports ABC News.
The New York City Police and Fire Department, New Jersey State Police and the Nassau County Police Department also joined in the search. Now the case is "being investigated as a possible hoax call," said a Coast Guard statement. Making a false distress call is a federal felony with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and reimbursement to the Coast Guard for search costs. The Coast Guard offers a $1,000 reward to anyone with information about false distress calls. (Read more New Jersey stories.)