BRISTOL, Maine — The U.S. Coast Guard at 3:20 p.m. Friday suspended an almost 10-hour full-scale search-and-rescue operation for a sinking 23-foot sailboat and its occupants reportedly seen Friday morning off Pemaquid Neck.
Searchers found no boat in distress, no debris and no one in the water, U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Brian Gilda said at a news conference Friday afternoon at U.S. Coast Guard Sector Northern New England in South Portland.
But Gilda stopped short of calling the report a hoax, and he said the search may resume if more information is received.
At 6 a.m., a man from Bristol called Lincoln County dispatch to report seeing a sailboat taking on water just off Pemaquid Neck, according to Gilda.
The man reported receiving a cellphone call from a person he knew telling him the boat was taking on water. Gilda said officials received “a couple variations of the story,” but that the man said two or three people were on board, one may have attempted to swim to shore, and the sailors “could have been a father-son team moving a vessel” to Maine from Massachusetts.
Gilda said the Coast Guard at no point had a name of the boat reported to be sinking — or who might be aboard.
To help with the search, the Coast Guard sent an H-60 helicopter and an HC 144 small propeller plane from Cape Cod and a 47-foot boat, and the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and fire departments from Bristol, South Bristol and Bremen — along with boats from the Maine Marine Patrol and seven local fishing boats — joined the search.
By air and sea, searchers covered 680 square nautical miles from Cape Small to Muscongus Bay to Monhegan Island, with planes zig-zagging at one-mile intervals.
Gilda said thoughts of a hoax were not entertained during the search.
“We got a report that we thought was actionable,” he said. “We’re much more comfortable saying we’re going to suspend that effort now.”
But he said the Maine Marine Patrol may look further into whether the call was a hoax and potentially file charges.
The search cost at least $100,000, according to Gilda, and in previous hoax situations, the Coast Guard has attempted to recoup the cost from the perpetrator.
The water temperature Friday was 40 degrees, officials said.
The Coast Guard asks anyone with information about a boat that may have been traveling from Massachusetts to Maine on Friday to call the command center at 767-0303.