Deputy Commander of Coast Guard Sector New York Capt. Gregory...

Deputy Commander of Coast Guard Sector New York Capt. Gregory Hitchen speaks during a news conference in New York. The Coast Guard says a reported explosion on a motor yacht off central New Jersey likely was a hoax and that an extensive search and rescue operation cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. (June 12, 2012) Credit: AP

The U.S. Coast Guard said Tuesday that the two 20-second calls reporting a fictitious disaster Monday aboard the yacht Blind Date came from a radio that was being used over land, not over water.

Capt. Gregory Hitchen, deputy commander of Coast Guard Sector New York, said Tuesday the search-and-rescue operation off the New Jersey coast cost at least $88,000.

The agency is offering a $3,000 reward for information leading to the caller's arrest and prosecution.

More than 200 first responders assembled to search for the survivors, including response units from the Nassau County Police Department, the NYPD, the FDNY, New Jersey State Police and Coast Guard rescue personnel, the Coast Guard said.

The person who made the distress call said the yacht was named Blind Date and that it had blown up. Three people were dead, the caller said. Seven were injured, some with second- and third-degree burns. All the survivors were huddled in life rafts somewhere in the Atlantic east of Sandy Hook, N.J., according to the caller.

That was the situation Monday afternoon, the U.S. Coast Guard said. But not long after a desperate search began for the injured boaters, Hitchen said, indications were that the entire scenario might be a hoax. After more than five hours of searching, Hitchen said Tuesday, the lie became evident.

The first emergency radio transmission was received about 4:20 p.m. Monday, officials said. The caller identified the vessel as the Blind Date, said it had 21 people aboard and that it had been damaged by an explosion while 17 nautical miles east of Sandy Hook.

The Coast Guard said its crews and police helicopters frantically searched the chilly waters for survivors or any sign of the reported disaster, and it wasn't long before officials started to suspect it was all a scam.

"They didn't see an oil slick, they didn't see life rafts or smoke," Hitchen said of the four helicopters initially dispatched to the search area.

The Coast Guard on Tuesday released audio of the distress calls, hopeful that someone will recognize the male voice and contact investigators.

Officials said anyone with information could call the Coast Guard Investigative Service at 646-872-5774 or 212-668-7048.

Making a false distress call is a federal felony and conviction carries a maximum penalty of 5 to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and reimbursement to the Coast Guard for the cost of the search.

The Coast Guard said it and other agencies responded to more than 60 suspected hoax calls in the northern New Jersey, New York City and Hudson River region in 2011.

But, Hitchen said, "These cases are very difficult to solve without some sort of tip."

Officials said the caller Monday sounded very much like the person who made a similar call last year -- almost one year to the day -- claiming a disaster in the same ocean waters off Sandy Hook.

Officials said on June 14, 2011, an emergency call claimed a 33-foot sailboat named Courtney Lynn was taking on water off Sandy Hook. An hour later, another call claimed the vessel was almost totally submerged and that four people on board were transferring to a dinghy.

A 10-hour search turned up no evidence to suggest the sinking was real, Hitchen said.

"This could have been a catastrophic, life-threatening situation" to both boaters and first responders, Hitchen said, noting the dangers of using multiple search aircraft in a small area, as well as the impact on other boaters who may be in real distress -- and how their assistance may be hampered by having rescue personnel diverted to pursue fake calls.

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