CLEVELAND -- A Sandusky man has been sentenced to three months in federal custody and ordered to pay restitution for making a false distress call that led to a massive search on Lake Erie.
Danik Shiv Kumar, 21, pleaded guilty to one count of making a false distress call earlier this year, according to a release from the office of Steven Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
On March 14, 2012, federal prosecutors say Kumar took off in a single-engine plane for a flight from Burke Lakefront Airport to Bowling Green State University. About thirty minutes into the flight, prosecutors say Kumar called the Cleveland-Hopkins Airport control tower and reported seeing a vessel "launching up flares," according to court documents. When asked for more details about the vessel in trouble, Kumar replied "a 25-foot fishing vessel I guess you could say. Everyone had a life jacket with a strobe light. I counted four of them," according to court documents.
The Coast Guard dispatched two vessels and began a search that lasted for 21 hours. Rescue helicopters out of Detroit were also used as well as equipment and crew from Ontario.
A month later, Kumar admitted to never seeing flares or a boat in distress. He also admitted that when he landed at Bowling Green, he knew the USCG was searching with full force but chose not to report the truth, according to court documents.
Kumar has been ordered to pay back $489,007 to cover the cost of the search he created by making a false report. The amount is comprised of the $277,257 expended by U.S. agencies and the $211,750 cost to the Canadian government. Kumar was also sentenced to 250 hours of community service and three years of supervised release.
"I am concerned that there are people who are willing to risk the lives of other boaters who might be in legitimate need of rescue or assistance, as well as needlessly endanger response crews, by knowingly making a false distress calls," said Capt. Eric Johnson, chief of the Coast Guard 9th District Incident Management Branch.
The U.S. Coast Guard investigated the incident.