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Police quiz man over mayday call; Hoax rescue plea sparked major search.

Byline: By MATT CASEY

POLICE have questioned a man about a hoax that cost pounds 20,000 and involved more than 50 people in a major sea search.

The man from Sunderland has been spoken to by police investigating the large-scale search on Friday.

It was triggered by a series of distress calls to the Humber Coastguard from a caller claiming to be the skipper of a sinking boat.

The hoaxer said the boat was sailing from the Tyne to Hartlepool and that three people had abandoned ship and were drifting in a life raft.

During the 90-minute search between the Tyne and Tees, a Sea King helicopter from RAF Boulmer, in Northumberland, was scrambled, along with four lifeboat crews from along the North East coast.

It is estimated that about 50 people were involved in the search, and it was only when lifeboat crews, through their positioning equipment, managed to trace the distress calls from land, in the Sunderland area, that the hoax came to light.

A spokesman for Northumbria Police said today: "We have spoken to a man on South Tyneside in connection with this, but inquiries are continuing.

"The man is in his 40s and from the Sunderland area.

"All offences of this kind are taken very seriously."

The alert came just hours after three people lost their lives in a genuine sea tragedy.

The hoaxer has been blasted by the Humber Coastguard and the RNLI for causing the "sickening" waste of resources.

A spokeswoman said hoax calls were not unusual, but said this one was taken so seriously because the hoaxer continually made contact with its operations centre via a VHF radio between 11.30pm and midnight on Friday.

She said the hoaxer claimed a pleasure craft had sunk about 15 miles offshore, with three occupants having to take to a life raft.

They were unable to give their position, but said they had been travelling from the Tyne to Hartlepool.

She said: "It was completely malicious, a waste of everyone's time and it was putting people's lives at risk.

"We do get hoaxes from mobile phones, but coming over the radio is very unusual. It was totally pointless and malicious."
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 28, 2007
Words:365
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