You Paid For It: Hoax rescue calls to local Coast Guard cost taxpayers millions

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — Every time the U.S. Coast Guard responds to a hoax call —and there have as many as 13 on Florida’s west coast just since January— you pay for it dearly.

A typical daytime rescue costs around $50,000, at night the cost to taxpayers nearly doubles to $90,000. “It’s very expensive and taxpayers are definitely footing that bill,” said Lt. Paul Simpson

“However, if a hoaxter is caught and we can prove the intent to deceive not only is it a felony they can be responsible for paying the cost of the case itself.

Simpson says that happened a few years ago in St. Petersburg. “We confirmed a person popped off a flare, six of them in fact, in a drunken stupor and served time for it,” Simpson said. That hoaxter also had to pay back a sobering $12,700 to reimburse the Coast Guard for the rescue response out of nearby Bayboro Harbor where a number of Coast Guard rescue vessels are docked.

Even the smallest Coast Guard response boat—a 29 footer with four crew members onboard—costs about $2,000 an hour to operate. The cost escalates to $7,000 an hour for a 45 footer. And when there’s a flight response, the price really soars. A Jayhawk helicopter costs $15,000 an hour to operate and a C-130 aircraft runs taxpayers $20,000.

That’s all part of doing business for the Coast Guard, but when the reason for rescue calls turns out to be a deliberate prank, that hurts. Taxpayers have spent about $1.2 million on what the Coast Guard calls “uncorrelated” calls on Florida’s west coast so far this year.  And every one of those calls can impact a real life and death rescue. “We want our crews out there thinking this is a real call this is a real situation we need to put our heart and soul into this,” Simpson said.

Tonight at 6, we’ll break down the taxpayer cost of hoax calls and show you what the fake ones and the real ones actually look and sound like in our You Paid For It report.

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