November 28, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
14°F
test

Distress call that set off search on Lake Erie may have been hoax

A 21-hour search of Lake Erie on March 14 and 15 by the U.S. Coast Guard for boaters in distress may have been part of a hoax.

Federal authorities Oct. 23 charged Danik Shiv Kumar, the Sandusky recreational pilot who prompted the search, with sending a false distress message to the Coast Guard. Kumar “caused the Coast Guard to attempt to save lives and property when no help was needed,” said an Oct. 23 news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio.

Kumar, 20, is due in federal court in Cleveland on Monday. Neither Kumar nor attorney Don Young III, who represents Kumar, could not be reached Wednesday.

Coast Guard members in March said Kumar told them that he saw five flares fired from a boat about 25 to 30 feet long with four people aboard about 10 miles north of Lorain. The four were reportedly wearing life jackets with strobe lights.

A Canadian C-130 aircraft, a Coast Guard helicopter from Detroit, a 110-foot Coast Guard cutter that had been breaking ice in the Cleveland area and 25-foot and 41-foot boats from the Lorain Coast Guard station participated in the search. Coast Guard officials refused Wednesday to release details of the investigation.

James Cox, a civilian search-and-rescue controller with the Coast Guard station in Buffalo, N.Y., said the effort cost a minimum of several thousand dollars, but wouldn’t give an exact number. Cox, who has been with the Coast Guard since 1982, said hoaxes are extremely rare and he could recall less than 10 during his career.

Petty Officer Levi Read, a Coast Guard spokesman in Cleveland, said he didn’t know specifics of the case, but the fact that no one else reported seeing the boat in distress or flares sent up “red flags.” Read said the incident was probed by the Coast Guard Investigative Service.

Read said the Coast Guard seeks to prosecute people making false claims, but that shouldn’t discourage people with legitimate concerns.

“We don’t want people to shy away from reporting things just because they think people are going to get in trouble for it,” he said.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.