LIFEBOAT rescuers had to be airlifted to safety after responding to a dangerous prank call that one crewman dubbed the “most clever and elaborate” he has ever experienced.
Rescue services, including the Queensferry lifeboat station, coastguard teams and an RAF helicopter, were scrambled to Cramond Island after a frantic phone call reported that a man had broken his leg and was stranded as the tide was rushing in.
But the incident turned out to be a hoax, costing thousands of pounds and led to the rescue team, which battled 50mph winds to reach the island, being winched to safety after needlessly searching for two hours.
Police are now investigating the hoax call, which officials blasted as “hugely irresponsible”, warning that lives had been put at risk by the prank caller.
Bob Bruce, the coastguard watch officer who received the call at around 1.30pm yesterday, said it was the most elaborate and malicious call he had received in his 19 years of service.
He said: “I’m very sad to say the call we got was a very elaborate hoax. We have access to Eisec information – when someone calls 999 on a mobile phone it gives us a six-figure grid position that can pinpoint where they are, and this person was nearby.
“They probably got a thrill watching the emergency services coming.
“The person who called sounded Spanish and said their name was Marcus. He said four people were stuck on Cramond Island and that one had broken their leg.
“We gave him advice and got lifeboat crews, a rescue helicopter from Prestwick and police. You could see the rough conditions on the sea and the wind was around 50mph, so these weren’t good conditions to be working in.
“The lifeboat crew put two men ashore and they searched the island, as did the helicopter, but after a while they realised it was an elaborate hoax.”
Mr Bruce said he had tried to ring the caller several times, but had been put through to voicemail.
He said: “By that time, the Eisec information told us that the man was in the Dunfermline area. He probably watched the rescue services working hard, then left after he got his thrill.
“This guy was convincing and you could hear the wind whistling in the background, so we thought he was on the island. I’ve had hoax calls, but you can usually tell straight away. This guy should have got an Oscar for his acting.
“But this was hugely irresponsible. The hoaxer didn’t take account of our safety and deploying the helicopter alone costs £5000 per hour. He sent staff out in 50mph winds and took resources away from other jobs. How people get their kicks this way is beyond me.”
Richard Smith, RNLI Media Relations Manager in Scotland, added: “The making of a hoax call is an extremely serious offence and anyone responsible should be brought to justice and punished. There is no excuse for someone to make a false report.
“If a lifeboat is engaged on a hoax call and out of action when a real life drama could be unfolding somewhere else in its area, another person could be in danger of losing their life.
Lothian and Borders police confirmed they are investigating the incident.