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Was the Charm Blow Mayday a Hoax?

The Coast Guard risks their lives during SAR missions.

© USCG

Speculation is running rampant across the country that the distress calls received by the Coast Guard on Sunday, reporting that two adults and two children abandoned ship to a makeshift liferaft as their 29-ft sailboat Charm Blow sank out from under them, was a hoax. The Coast Guard and Air National Guard searched nearly 20,000 square miles before suspending the active search yesterday morning. No sign of bodies or debris was spotted.

"Did you hear the guy’s mayday transmission?" wrote one commenter on our Facebook page. "He was so calm, it was like he was ordering a pizza. I think it was a hoax and I hope they find the perp." [Listen to a snippet of one transmission here.]

"The first call was made at 4:20 [a reference to marijuana consumption], and a Charm Blow is a brand of sucker with a bubblegum interior. Hoax!" insisted another.

Other commenters were quick to point out that the Coast Guard received the VHF transmissions — many of them over the course of an hour — via their radio tower on Mt. Umunhum, between San Jose and Santa Cruz. At a height of 3,500 feet, the tower would be able to pick up transmissions from as far as 65 or so miles away. 

While Lt. Tim Martin of the SAR Command Center notes that errors are inherent in radio signals, he says adding two degrees to either side of the line of bearing — in this case approximately 227 degrees true — and expanding out in a triangle gives them a starting point for searches. "We search far outside that triangle," he added. 

The USCG, Navy and Air National Guard searched about 20,000 square miles of ocean with no results. The tower on Mt. Umunhum is marked as a green square and the line of bearing points southwest.

© 2013 USCG

Had Charm Blow‘s radio signal bounced off a second tower, the Coast Guard would have been able to narrow the search dramatically, but since it was received by just one, they only know the transmissions originated somewhere between shore and 65 miles miles away along that line of bearing.

At this point, no one has filed missing persons reports on any of the four family members — a married couple, their four-year-old son, and his under-eight-year-old cousin — which has stirred up more suspicion that the caller was a fraud. Public Affairs Officer Mike Lutz pointed out the Coast Guard is operating under the assumption that this is still a Search and Rescue operation until they have evidence to the contrary, but they are investigating the possibility that it was a hoax. 

Facebook poster Ari Rubenstein perfectly summed up our feelings on the situation: "If this is a hoax, it’s the worst karma points ever. The Coasties are out there putting their lives on the line looking for kids and parents. If this isn’t a legit mayday, the jokers ought to get a seven-figure bill for the search. At the same time, I’d secretly rather it be a sick joke than four souls lost."

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