RALEIGH — The man’s calls were filled with desperate details. His boat’s motor had failed, and he was pinned against a rock jetty not far from shore, he told emergency responders by radio.
“Mayday, mayday, she’s going down … she’s going to go underwater in a second, and I’m going to the beach,” the man said as his 22-foot Bayliner supposedly sank into a choppy ocean off Cape Lookout, near Beaufort, on Oct. 8.
The plea for help, a recording of which was released last fall, was enough to scramble the Coast Guard, the Marine Corps and the National Parks Service – a tremendous show for Homer Lewis Blackburn as he watched safely from his balcony.
Blackburn, 27, pleaded guilty Friday in federal court in Raleigh to calling in a sinking-boat hoax from Atlantic Beach.
He faces a fine up to $250,000 and up to six years in prison for the false distress calls, which brought two MH-60 helicopters, a CH-43 chopper and five government boats to search 90 square nautical miles near the Lookout Bight Jetty.
“We’ve searched through the night, through most of today,” said Petty Officer First Class Brandyn Hill on Oct. 9, the day after the hoax. “We’ve saturated the area … and the Coast Guard was unable to find any signs of distress.”
And that might have been the end of it, until Coast Guard investigators caught a break. An unnamed witness told investigators that she’d overheard Blackburn calling “mayday” from a citizens band radio he’d mounted on his balcony.
When Blackburn was finished, the witness said, he went to the balcony to watch the helicopters, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Another witness heard Blackburn bragging about the calls, which he reportedly found hilarious, according to the federal prosecutor’s office.
The rescue effort cost nearly $289,000 in time and resources, according to the attorney’s office. Blackburn may be forced to repay that cost, the attorney’s office said.
Kenney: 919-829-4870; Twitter: @KenneyNC