The Coast Guard on Tuesday called off the search for a boat that reportedly sank in rough seas far off the Central California coast with two adults and two children on board, saying the family's frantic distress calls could have been a hoax.
Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Mike Lutz said crews found no debris and no physical signs of distress after searching for nearly 48 hours.
Crews have been looking for the family by sea and air since receiving their first distress call Sunday afternoon.
The boaters said their 29-foot sailboat, which might have been called "Charmblow," was taking on water and their electronics were failing.
The boat had no working GPS system, but investigators used its radio signal and radar to determine the call came from an area about 60 miles west of Monterey, where strong winds, cold water and big swells made for perilous conditions. Forecasters had issued a weekend advisory warning boaters of high swells in the area.
An hour later, the family members reported they had to abandon the boat and were trying to make a life raft out of a cooler and life-preserver ring. The Coast Guard then lost radio contact.
Investigators determined from the broken distress calls that the family included a husband and wife, their 4-year-old son and his cousin, Coast Guard Lt. Heather Lampert said. The agency received no reports about a family missing at sea.
On Monday, the Coast Guard released one of the recorded calls in hopes that it would lead to new information from the public that could help in the search.
In the crackling recording, a man's voice is heard saying, "Coast Guard, Coast Guard, we are abandoning ship. This is the (Charmblow), we are abandoning ship."
Lutz said earlier Tuesday there was nothing on the distress call such as laughter that would spark suspicion, and he did not think it was particularly unusual that the man on the call sounded calm.
"You never really know how someone is going to handle it," Lutz said. "Some people are a lot calmer than others."
Coast Guard Executive Officer Noah Hudson in Monterey said it's always difficult to call off a search.
"It's tough for me thinking that we had four people out on the water who were in need of rescue and to think there might have been loss of life in this case is tragic."
But if it was a hoax, "it's unfortunate that we were forced to use so many resources for so much time," Hudson said. He did not know how much money had been spent on the search efforts.