Local law enforcement officials are concerned that a pair of boat-in-distress calls to 911 over the holiday weekend may have been prank calls.

Oneida County Sheriff Rob Maciol stopped short of calling them 'fake' or 'prank' calls, instead referring to them as 'unfounded' - while recapping the weekend on WIBX First News with Keeler in the Morning on Tuesday. Both instances involved a reported boat in distress on Oneida Lake, with the first report being made to Onondaga County 911 on Friday, Maciol said. The second came on Sunday afternoon and was made to the U.S. Coast Guard, he said.

Of the Friday search, Marciol said, ''That was an unfounded call. I'm not quite sure, did someone see something that they thought was a boat in distress? Did someone make a fake call? We don't know at this point. Then, when it happens again....'' Maciol said, referring to the second, similar call about a boat in distress on Oneida Lake on Sunday afternoon.

Sunday's call came under much different weather circumstances. Friday's report prompted a search and rescue effort that carried into the late hours of the night- with first responders working in the dark, battling wind and rain. Sunday's search effort came shortly after 2:00PM, with much better weather, however, Maciol says the lives of those first responders are at risk under any conditions.

''You're putting a lot of resources out there, you're putting a lot of first responders' lives at risk. Costing a lot of money. Obviously, if we're saving a life you don't worry about financial cost, but when these unfounded things happen, you do put a price tag on it because it is a significant use of man power and resources,'' Maciol said.

Further, when personnel are engaged in a search and another emergency call is made to 911 involving a 'real' situation, those resources can't just be redeployed, he said. Rescue teams remain on-scene to continue investigating the incident until it is determined that no one is in danger. In other words, prank calls to 911 jeopardize the lives of those facing a real emergency, as well as the first responders who out search for a sinking boat that doesn't exist.

Patrolling the 26-mile long lake involves several jurisdictions as it extends from Oneida County to Oswego, Madison and Onondaga counties. Sheriff's personnel from all four counties were on hand for at least one of the searches, along with local fire departments, and a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter flew in from Buffalo to participate in both searches, Maciol said.

The Sheriff said authorities are looking into who made those boat-in-distress-calls to 911, but said trying to trace their origin can be difficult given current technology that allows a caller to hide their real number and identity.

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