Phony distress call leads to 1-year prison sentence

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A Maine man whose phony mayday call led to a seven-hour search by the U.S. Coast Guard was sentenced last month to a year in prison, and federal prosecutors said they hoped the penalty sends a message to other potential pranksters.

Owen Adair, 23, of Vinahlaven used a two-way radio in his pickup truck to issue a hoax call, saying “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday” and telling the Coast Guard his brother had suffered a serious laceration on a commercial boat that was supposedly fishing off the coast of Maine, prosecutors said. 

The Coast Guard spent hours in the fruitless search for the fishing vessel Lila Rose, which was actually safe at its mooring off Vinalhaven Island the entire time. 

U.S. District Chief Judge Nancy Torresen sentenced Adair to a year in prison plus up to a year in a halfway house and ordered him to pay $15,000 in restitution. 

The Coast Guard says it responds to an average of 12 distress calls on a typical summer day in northern New England, and has had a spate of prank calls in recent years. Of the 450 search-and-rescue cases last year, about 25 were unresolved and suspected prank calls, Coast Guard Lt. Scott McCann said.

Adair, who pleaded guilty in April, was unable to explain his Sept. 30 actions. At the time, he’d just left his job as sternman on a lobster boat and was battling opiate addition, according to court documents. He also had been drinking when he decided to make the fake call. 

His attorney, J. Hilary Billings, said he apologized to the Coast Guard during the sentencing hearing. 

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