Sea search may have been false alarm

RICHARD BATSON A rescue beacon which sparked a massive offshore search lasting five hours and covering 500 square miles could have been set off accidentally, say coastguards.

RICHARD BATSON

A rescue beacon which sparked a massive offshore search lasting five hours and covering 500 square miles could have been set off accidentally, say coastguards.

Two lifeboats, a helicopter, six support ships and five onshore coastguard teams were scrambled when the emergency beacon went off on Saturday afternoon.

But a thorough search of a 25-square-mile area, starting five miles off Cromer and heading north east into gas fields dotted with a dozen rigs, failed to find anything.

Coastguard watch manager Glynn Young said the alert could have been anything from an aircraft in trouble to a lost diver, so the full-scale response was needed.

The emergency positioning indicating radio beacons (EPIRB) are activated by immersion in water or manually - but sometimes they misfire, particularly the older type on the 121.5MHz frequency involved in this case.

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“We get about one false alarm a month from these. But this one went off three times in different locations, but all within a mile of each other,” said Mr Young. “We have to assume the worst and mobilise resources.”