3 sailors dead, 1 missing in yacht accident - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

3 sailors dead, 1 missing in yacht accident

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In this image taken from U.S. Coast Guard video, a rescuer retrieves a piece of debris from the ocean off the Baja California, Mexico coast near Ensenada Sunday, April 29, 2012. (AP) In this image taken from U.S. Coast Guard video, a rescuer retrieves a piece of debris from the ocean off the Baja California, Mexico coast near Ensenada Sunday, April 29, 2012. (AP)
This Friday, April 27, 2012, photo shows the Aegean with crew members at the start of a 125-mile Newport Beach, Calif. to Ensenada, Mexico yacht race. (AP) This Friday, April 27, 2012, photo shows the Aegean with crew members at the start of a 125-mile Newport Beach, Calif. to Ensenada, Mexico yacht race. (AP)
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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The body of the skipper of a yacht apparently smashed to pieces by a ship off the Coronado Islands remained missing Monday, as the families of all four men aboard wondered how the accident could have happened.

A spokesman for Newport Ocean Sailing Association, which puts on the annual Newport to Ensenada race, said the wreckage of the 37-foot Aegean dropped off the race's boat-tracking system about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, and the debris field found when the sun rose later the same day suggested it was hit by a much larger vessel.

Sailors who knew skipper Theo Mavromatis, 49, of Redondo Beach, said he was conscientious, safety oriented and had his Hunter 376 outfitted with "all the bells and whistles," including radar, which is a collision-avoidance tool.

Winds were light at the time, and if only one person were on deck, he may have had trouble starting the boat's auxiliary engine and getting out of the way in time.

On Saturday afternoon, the bodies of Joseph Lester Stewart, 64, of Bradenton, Fla. and 57-year-old William Reed Johnson Jr. of Torrance were recovered, along with the body another crew mate whose name was unavailable early Monday.

The ship that struck the fiberglass sloop has not been identified. Some of the first rescuers on scene were able to identify a debris field as that of the Aegean, because its transom, emblazoned with its name, was still afloat.

The yacht was one of 213 sailboats in the roughly 125-mile race, which started about noon Friday. Most boats finished Saturday.

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search Sunday afternoon.

"It's never easy to make the decision to suspend a search and rescue case," said Capt. Sean Mahoney, the commander of the agency's San Diego sector. "The Coast Guard extends its sympathies to the families and friends of the Aegean crew. They will be in our thoughts and prayers."

The fatalities were first in the 65 years that the Newport to Ensenada race has been run, race organizers said.

Rich Roberts of the Newport Ocean Sailing Association, which puts on the race, said the collision occurred just south of border near the Coronado Islands, a group of four islands about 8 miles off the Baja California coast.

The course of the Aegean crossed shipping lanes used by commercial and military ships headed to and from the ports of San Diego and Ensenada, and maritime investigators will attempt to identify the ship involved. The captain of ship hundreds of times as big as the Aegean might have been unaware of the collision.

The deaths marked the second yachting disaster this spring. On April 14 off San Francisco, five lives were lost when a yacht in a race around the Farallon Islands was disabled by a breaking wave and washed onto a rocky shore.

That prompted the Coast Guard to suspend offshore sailboat racing in Northern California.

THIS IS AN UPDATE TO THE PREVIOUS STORY BELOW.

ENSENADA, Mexico (AP) — Authorities have identified two of the three sailors found dead off the shore of Southern California and Mexico after their racing yacht apparently collided with a larger vessel.

The San Diego Medical Examiner's office said Sunday that the sailors were 57-year-old William Reed Johnson Jr. of Torrance, Calif., and 64-year-old Joseph Lester Stewart of Bradenton, Fla.

The name of the third sailor whose body was pulled from the waters Saturday has been withheld pending notification of relatives.

A fourth person who was aboard the 37-foot Aegean remains missing. The crewmembers were taking part in a 124-miler race that began Friday from Newport Beach, Calif. to Ensenada, Mexico.

Calls to Johnson's and Stewart's homes went unanswered.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

THIS IS AN UPDATE TO THE PREVIOUS STORY BELOW.

ENSENADA, Mexico (AP) — A sailor who pulled two dead bodies from coastal waters off California and Mexico during a sailboat race said Sunday that he found debris smashed in so many pieces that it looked like the vessel had gone through a blender.

Eric Lamb said both bodies were covered with scrapes and bruises and one had severe head trauma.

Lamb was working safety patrol Saturday morning when he came across the debris roughly nine hours after the crash occurred. He called the Coast Guard for help.

Two race participants who were in the area at the time of the crash also told The Associated Press on Sunday that they saw a tanker or heard warnings on their radios.

The boat apparently collided at night with a much larger vessel, leaving three crew members dead and one missing, a sailing organization said early Sunday. It was the state's second ocean racing tragedy this month.

The 37-foot Aegean, carrying a crew of four, was reported missing Saturday during a 125-mile Newport Beach, Calif. to Ensenada, Mexico yacht race, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The Newport Ocean Sailing Association, the race organizer, said the accident occurred late Friday or early Saturday several miles off the coast near the ocean border of the two countries.

"It appeared the damage was not inflicted by an explosion but by a collision with a ship much larger than the 37-foot vessel," association spokesman Rich Roberts said in a news release early Sunday.

Race officials believe there are few other possibilities for what caused the accident, Roberts later told The AP, speaking by phone from Ensenada.

He said details were still scarce but it was possible that if the smaller boat was bobbing around in light wind, the crew might not have been able to get out of the way of a larger ship, perhaps a freighter. The race goes through shipping lanes and it's possible for a large ship to hit a sailboat and not even know it, especially at night, he said.

Roberts said a race tracking system indicated that the boat disappeared about 1:30 a.m. PDT Saturday.

A Coast Guard search turned up the boat's wreckage, including the rear transom with the boat's name on it, the association release said.

Three crew members of the sailboat were found dead and a search was under way early Sunday for the fourth. Coast Guard boats and two aircraft as well as Mexican navy and civilian vessels were involved.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Henry Dunphy said early Sunday that searchers were focusing on an area about 10 miles off the Mexican coast and about 10 miles south of U.S. waters.

The names of the dead were not released pending notification of next of kin.

The Aegean is registered to Theo Mavromatis, 49, of Redondo Beach. The race association didn't know if he was aboard the boat during the race. Marina Sailing in Redondo Beach lists a boat named Aegean, which matches the model and length of the missing vessel, among the boats it rents out for $325 a day.

A woman answering a call at a number listed for Mavromatis declined to speak Sunday morning.

The Newport Beach Patch website posted a photo that shows the crew at the start of the race Friday. Four men in royal blue T-shirts are on the deck as the boat cuts through calm waters. One man is waving and another appears to be smiling.

Other yachts near the Coronado Islands in Mexico — four small, mostly uninhabited islands — reported seeing debris Saturday morning. Searchers in the afternoon found the bodies and debris from the Aegean, whose home port is Redondo Beach, Dunphy said

Two of the dead were recovered by a civilian boat, while the third was found by a Coast Guard helicopter.

Dunphy said conditions were fine for sailing, with good visibility and moderate ocean swells of 6-to-8 feet.

A total of 210 boats were registered in the 65th annual yacht race, according to the Newport Ocean Sailing Association's website. The race started off from Newport Beach on Friday and many boats finished in Ensenada Saturday.

About 50 people gathered in morning fog Sunday at the Ensenada marina to watch the final arrivals. A notice tacked to a bulletin board alongside the racing times informed spectators of the tragedy.

The association's commodore told the AP that he didn't know the members of the Aegean or how many people were aboard.

"This has never happened in the entire 65 years of the race that I'm aware of," Chuck Iverson said. "We're all shocked by this whole event."

The deaths come two weeks after five sailors died in the waters off Northern California when their 38-foot yacht was hit by powerful waves, smashed into rocks and capsized during a race. Three sailors survived the wreck and the body of another was quickly recovered. Four remained missing until one body was recovered last Thursday.

The deadly accident near the Farallon Islands, about 27 miles west of San Francisco, prompted the Coast Guard to temporarily stop races in ocean waters outside San Francisco Bay. The Coast Guard said the suspension will allow it and the offshore racing community to study the accident and race procedures to determine whether changes are needed to improve safety. U.S. Sailing, the governing body of yacht racing, is leading the safety review, which is expected to be completed within the next month.

___

AP reporters Bernie Wilson in San Diego and Daisy Nguyen in Los Angeles contributed

.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

THIS IS AN UPDATE TO THE PREVIOUS STORY BELOW.

POINT LOMA (CNS) - A Coast Guard helicopter Sunday joined a cutter searching for a possible fourth victim from a Redondo Beach-based racing yacht, which may have crashed into a larger ship off San Diego while racing from Newport to Ensenada.

Three bodies have already been recovered, and one person remains missing after the "Aegean" apparently collided on a moonless sea one hour after midnight Saturday morning, a race spokesman said. The yacht was one of 213 boats that crossed shipping lanes used by large freighters, Navy ships and fishing vessels off San Diego.

The four apparent fatalities are the ever recorded in the 65 years that the annual Newport To Ensenada Yacht Race has been run, race organizers said.

It was the second offshore yacht racing disaster off California this year: five racers were killed off San Francisco two weeks ago.

In Saturday's disaster, other racers reported finding pieces of a broken-up sailboat southwest of Point Loma Saturday morning. The Coast Guard and a

Vessel Assist boat later found the yacht's transom and three bodies west of the Coronado Islands, a small group of rocky islands about 9 miles off the Baja California coast just south of the international border.

Winds were reported light early Saturday morning, when the "Aegean" disappeared from tracking devices at 1 a.m., race spokesman Rich Roberts said.

The Hunter 376 yacht was owned by Theo Mavromatis and homeported at King Harbor at Redondo Beach.

It was not publicly known if any large Navy or commercial ships were crossing the race course at that time, but the yacht's path intersects shipping lanes into San Diego Bay near where debris was first spotted Saturday. The nearest big commercial ports are at San Diego and Ensenada, about 70 miles southeast.

Large commercial fishing boats from both the U.S. and Mexico also operate in the area.

About 1:30 a.m. Saturday, the boat's image vanished from the online race tracking system. A Coast Guard search was begun and that led to the wreckage, which included the transom with the boat's name on it, the race spokesman Roberts said.

After other racers spotted broken-up yacht chunks in the waters west of the Coronados Saturday morning, the Coast Guard helicopter spotted two floating bodies. The chopper crew radioed a Vessel Assist crew to the two bodies, and Coast Guardsmen found and retrieved a third body Saturday afternoon.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Seth Johnson said a Coast Guard cutter searched for wreckage through the night and a helicopter joined the search effort at 7 a.m. today. The San Diego County coroner has identified only one body, and said only that it was a 57-year-old Torrance man.

"Right now we're continuing our search and trying to find the person," Johnson told City News Service.

According to the race spokesman Roberts, the three died "in apparent collision with a large vessel several miles off the coast near the border."

Mavromatis is president and chief executive of Aegean Consulting, Inc., which specializes in the telecommunications and aerospace industries.

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