A cruel hoaxer tricked the Humber Coastguard and the RNLI just hours after three people lost their lives in a genuine sea tragedy in nearby Whitby

A cruel hoaxer tricked the Humber Coastguard and the RNLI just hours after three people lost their lives in a genuine sea tragedy in nearby Whitby.

A large-scale search was launched after Humber Coastguard received a Mayday distress call at 11.28pm on 23 November. The signal was weak but the male caller claimed the engine had failed and the boat was taking water 15 minutes off the coast at Hartlepool.

Aware that the weather was bad a search was initiated between the River Tyne and the Tees that enlisted a helicopter from nearby RAF Boulmer, four RNLI lifeboats from Tynemouth, Sunderland and Hartlepool and the police, at a cost of thousands of pounds.

Drew Mahood, Watch Manager, said he began to suspect it was a hoax when the caller asked him to record the call so he could send a last message to loved ones, but he still had to act, “We have to respond to all distress calls, we can’t dismiss then, particularly in the wake of what had happened earlier in the evening” he said.

The search was only called off when the signal was traced to land in the Sunderland area and although police are investigating no one has been charged. Drew said, “An act like this is despicable. Our team risks its lives to rescue people in dangerous weather conditions. What makes it worse is that the way in which this hoax was conducted suggests that this person has a maritime background.”

To reduce hoaxes and improve safety the Maritime and Coastguard Agency recommends completing a CG66 form (available from www.mcga.gov.uk ) each time you embark on a trip.

An inquest is currently underway into the deaths of brothers Andrew and John Carrick and Andrew’s partner Jill Russell after their Bayliner 245 overturned outside Whitby Harbour.