Pranksters sought in expensive lake searches
Written by Muskegon Chronicle   
Monday, 06 June 2005 06:02
What may have been a prank resulted in intense air and sea searches of Lake Michigan Wednesday by the U.S. Coast Guard after three empty boats were found adrift near the Mona Lake Channel.

No one was ever reported missing, but two searches had to be launched because the Coast Guard could not rule out the possibility that someone had been aboard the small boats, according to Lt. Craig Lawrance, of Group Grand Haven.

The cost for the searches is roughly $29,400, he said.

Authorities believe someone pushed the boats out into Lake Michigan as a spring prank.

All three of the small boats had been kept on the beach in front of homes in the search area, according to the Coast Guard and the Muskegon County Sheriff's Department Marine Division.

Officials were able to reach two of the boat owners. "No one had permission to use the boats," Lawrance said, "and the owners said the last time they saw the boats, they were on the beach."

Lake Michigan wasn't rough overnight from Tuesday into Wednesday and winds remained light, officials said. There was no natural reason for the boats to have been floating out in the lake.

At 11:15 p.m. Tuesday, Norton Shores police got a parking complaint on Norton Hills Road, according to Lt. Jon Gale. Officers found a teen party on the beach. No alcohol was involved and the party broke up, basically because police told party-goers their vehicles were in no-parking areas, Gale said.

Police say there is no evidence connecting anyone from the party to the boats that obviously were pushed into the water by human hands.

If the responsible persons are found, they potentially could wind up footing the bill for the searches, the Coast Guard said. The situation would be similar to that of someone caught making a false "Mayday" call, Lawrance said.

In addition to a boat from Station Muskegon, which involved the use of two different crews, Coast Guard helicopters from Muskegon and Traverse City also became involved in the searches, Lawrance said.

The Coast Guard began its first search around 8 a.m. Wednesday after a kayak was found out in the lake by someone who called 911. "We talked to the owner and we couldn't rule out that someone had just taken it," he said. During the first search, a third boat, a catamaran without its mast and rigging, also was found.

The second search started after an empty 11-foot skiff was discovered floating about 200 yards offshore just before 6 p.m., Lawrance said. That search ended about 2 a.m. today.

"We search until we determine there is no distress," Lawrance said.

"We're there to save lives," he added. "What if one of those boats did have a young teen aboard who fell overboard?"

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