TAHOE CITY - An unmanned sailboat on Lake Tahoe spurred a more than two-hour search before officials learned the boaters were safe at home.
"We later found out that the people were safe at home," said Geneviave Moya, seaman with the U.S. Coast Guard Station at Lake Tahoe.
A Dollar Point resident reported that the 16-foot catamaran, a 1979 Coast Cat, was crashing into an area pier just after 3 p.m. on Monday, said Coast Guardsman Patrick Ryan. Because the vessel's sail was up and its rudders were down, the Coast Guard suspected the boat may not have been intentionally docked and began a search for its passengers.
"That was our main concern, that somebody was in the water," said Brian Rhodes, a Coast Guard crewman who participated in the search efforts. "That's something that we just can't take a chance on."
Rhodes questioned nearby beachgoers for any information about the boat's occupants. No one reported seeing the boat drifting, but one witness did say he had seen two people sailing in it a few hours earlier, Rhodes said.
At approximately 10 minutes to 4 p.m., the Coast Guard requested the help of the Placer County Sheriff's Department and issued an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast to crafts on the lake. Help was also solicited from the Naval Air Station in Fallon and a U.S. Geological Survey plane. The search, which encompassed a four-mile area from Dollar Point to Sugar Pine Point State Park, involved two boats, two helicopters and a plane.
"It's countless," Rhodes said of the number of people who participated in the search.
"You've got dispatchers, you've got ground people ... all in all I'd have to say 25 to 30 people, easy," said Rhodes.
As the search neared its third fruitless hour, sheriff's officers searching the surrounding grounds knocked on the door of a nearby house and were greeted by Rene Gense, the operator of the vessel.
According to Placer County Detective Sgt. Jeff Granum, Gense told officials she and a friend had taken the sailboat out before noon and had beached it on the shore.
Gense, who was visiting from Austin, Texas, told officers she was unaware that the boat had drifted into the pier.
"If they'd secured their boat properly this whole thing could have been avoided," Rhodes said of the search, explaining that boaters should take down the sail and raise the rudders before docking or beaching their boat.