RNZAF on standby after hoax mayday

Friday March 24, 2006

An air force Orion and 16 crew were put on standby yesterday after a 15-year-old Napier youth sent a hoax mayday call from a boat parked on a dive school trailer.

Police say the teen risked a $10,000 fine or even a 12-month stint in jail when he sent the maritime distress call from an Adventure Education dive boat about 9.15am.

The call put the Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Wellington on full alert, with an air force Orion on standby at Whenuapai and a helicopter waiting in Taupo.

But just moments before a costly major search and rescue effort was launched, the hoax was uncovered and the Orion and its crew stood down.

Maritme New Zealand communications advisor Steve Corbett said 16 RNZAF crew were kitted-up and the Orion was about to be fuelled ready to start a search.

Had it taken to the air, the cost of the hoax call would have soared by thousands of dollars.

"Apparently the Orion would have had to be fully fuelled, but it would not have been allowed to land with that on board, and the fuel would have had to be burned off," he said.

Reimbursement of those costs would have been sought, he said.

The call was traced to a dive boat and radio on a trailer at Adventure Education, Taradale Road.

A spokesman for Adventure Education said the boy was not on a diving course at the centre, but nobody from the company could comment further.

Rescue Co-ordination Centre search and rescue officer Mike Roberts said the call was "potentially very dangerous".

"We react immediately to any sign of possible distress and have to get things moving quickly," he said.

"We could have had these aircraft up in very poor weather, putting the crews in danger.

"Everyone needs to realise that pranks like this are no laughing matter ... it's very frustrating to go to all this trouble for nothing."

Senior Sergeant Tony Dewhirst at Napier police station said he didn't think the youth realised the consequences of his stupidity.

"The problem is we had to treat it as a genuine mayday call. So we had police on the ground making inquiries at marinas, and our search and rescue staff on stand-by.

"We don't really need this sort of thing as we're busy enough."

The 15-year-old youth has been charged with dangerous activity involving ships, under the Maritime Transport Act 1994.