Danik Shiv Kumar, 21, of Sandusky, Ohio, was on a solo flight in a small plane on March 14, 2012, when he called the control tower and reported seeing a fishing boat on Lake Erie launching flares.
He said there were four people on board, all wearing life-jackets, according to a release from the United States Attorney’s Office.
This led to an extensive search by boats and helicopters from both sides of the border. One crew searched for 21 hours.
More than a month later, Kumar admitted that he never saw flares or a boat in distress and there were never any people in need of help.
He also admitted he knew the United States Coast Guard was searching with full force but chose not to report the truth, according to court documents.
Hoaxes and false distress calls are no laughing matter, said Kyle Neimi of the U.S. Coast Guard.
"If we're searching needlessly then that puts boaters who are in legitimate danger at risk because we're off on a wild goose chase. Additionally, it puts our rescue crews unnecessarily at risk," he said.
Kumar was sentenced to three months in federal custody in addition to footing the bill for the search.
The $489,007 restitution represents the cost of the search: $277,257 by U.S. agencies and $211,750 by Canadian agencies.
Kumar was also sentenced to do 250 hours of community service and will be on supervised release for three years.