The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search off Monterey on Tuesday for four people reported missing aboard a sinking sailboat, saying a distress call from the vessel may have been a hoax.
Officials stopped short of declaring that there was never any sinking sailboat 65 miles off the coast. But they said they were ending the search because there were no signs of the vessel or its occupants after nearly two days of looking in an area roughly the size of West Virginia.
"We're not investigating it directly as a hoax, but I will say that we are pursuing every avenue, and it certainly is a possibility," said Coast Guard Cmdr. Don Montoro.
He estimated the search had cost at least "hundreds of thousands of dollars." The Coast Guard sent C-130 Hercules planes, helicopters and boats to scour a 20,000-square-mile area, and the Navy and California Air National Guard also sent up aircraft.
Earlier Tuesday, Coast Guard Petty Officer Barry Bena said much of the information officials received hadn't been confirmed, from the name of the boat to the identities of the four said to be onboard.
Officials also don't know where the boat came from or where it was going.
"It is making the search difficult," Bena said. "When you don't have anything to go by, it makes it frustrating. There's no name, there's no confirmed name of the vessel, no one has come forward to say, 'Hey, my family's missing' or anything."
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