October 6, 2021
When Rhode Island residents spotted several red flares being launched into the sky late at night last year, witnesses fearing the worst contacted authorities.
A flare of that colour and type flying over coastal skies typically signals one thing: A vessel or crew is in distress and needs help.
For hours, local authorities and the U.S. Coast Guard searched the water and shoreline near the area where the flares were first seen off of mainland Rhode Island, court records state. The reports prompted the Coast Guard to deploy a surface vessel, two helicopters, personnel and equipment. Altogether, it cost the Coast Guard over $100,000, according to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island.
But the flares were no sign of nautical distress, authorities later found.
Perry C. Phillips and Benjamin C. Foster discharged the flares aboard a skiff when they got close to their friend’s wedding reception in the Breezy Point area of Block Island, court records state. All the pair wanted to do was to catch the attention of the wedding guests, according to the court documents.
The federal government later sued the Block Island duo, arguing they knowingly and willfully discharged marine distress flares without an emergency. As a result, federal prosecutors argued, the Coast Guard conducted and carried out an unnecessary operation.
On Monday, Phillips, 31, and Foster, 33, reached an agreement with the government, the U.S. attorney’s office in Rhode Island announced. Each will pay a fine of $5,000 for causing a “needless and expensive” maritime search-and-rescue mission.
Neither Phillips nor Foster responded to messages from The Washington Post late Tuesday. Attorneys representing the pair and Coast Guard officials also did not respond to requests for comment.
This is not the first time the Coast Guard has responded to distress calls connected to celebrations. In June, a Coast Guard helicopter rescued three people celebrating a 30th birthday in Alaska when their pink flamingo raft was swept out to sea. In 2017, Coast Guard personnel rescued eight bachelor partygoers when they were stranded after their boat ran aground on a sandbar near Capers Island, S.C.
On June 6, 2020, Phillips and Foster borrowed a flare gun and flares from a friend, court records state, before boarding a skiff and heading toward a beach near Block Island’s Breezy Point. As they neared the wedding location at about 9:30 p.m., the duo launched three red flares into the sky, court records state. One of the men recorded the incident and posted it to his social media, the complaint states, before the pair returned to shore.
Following reports from witnesses, the New Shoreham harbor master and a police officer searched the shoreline and water for 90 minutes. The Coast Guard also sent out personnel and equipment, investing nearly nine hours of work.