May 23, 2018
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Source of distress call still under investigation

By Heather Steeves, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — The Coast Guard is continuing to investigate the source of a distress call Saturday that resulted in a massive search effort in Penobscot Bay which turned up nothing.

Coast Guard commanding officer Curtis Barthel said Monday that Sector Northern New England based in Portland is investigating the incident, which began when a man radioed around noon Saturday saying his boat was sinking north of North Haven. After searching for six hours Saturday afternoon, the Coast Guard called off the search and said Sunday the call could have been a hoax, but stopped short of calling it a hoax because no one has been caught.

“The interesting part is that the only antenna we picked him up on is Kings Mountain [near Orono],” Barthel said Monday. “So the odds of him being in the Rockland area were pretty slim.”

Barthel said the caller identified himself as “Elwood Patten” and his boat as the Steven Bowden. No record has been found of a boat by that name, nor a person named Elwood Patten.

“There is no Elwood Patten alive in the state of Maine,” Barthel said. “We searched a [Department of Motor Vehicle] database, fishing database, every Maine area database — there is no Elwood Patten.”

The man kept the Coast Guard engaged on the radio for about 30 minutes, much longer than similar suspicious calls in the past.

“He held on for a long time, which was surprising. It was over half an hour. Usually they’re short and they get done right away. They bail on us,” Barthel said.

The man initially told the Coast Guard that his sinking boat was five miles due north of North Haven, Barthel said. “Then he goes, ‘No, no, no, I’m between Vinalhaven and Deer Isle.’ Those two positions are seven or eight miles apart. No fisherman would not know where he is by that much,” he said.

No debris, person or boat was found in the course of the search of waters around Vinalhaven and Deer Isle, which included two Coast Guard rescue helicopters and a Falcon jet — all dispatched from Cape Cod, Mass. — a Maine Marine Patrol boat, a Knox County Sheriff’s Department aircraft and two civilian boats.

The entire search cost about $176,000.

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