April 30, 2012 in Nation/World

Yacht debris, bodies found off Mexico

Officials believe boat collided with larger vessel
Elliot Spagat Associated Press
Associated Press photo

This photo taken Friday shows the Aegean with crew members at the start of a yacht race.
(Full-size photo)

ENSENADA, Mexico – A 37-foot racing yacht was reduced to debris that looked “like it had gone through a blender,” a searcher said Sunday after the boat apparently collided with a larger vessel, killing three sailors and leaving a fourth missing.

The U.S. Coast Guard, the Mexican navy and civilian vessels scoured the waters off the shore of both countries for the missing sailor before suspending their search Sunday evening.

The crew of four sailors was aboard the Aegean, which was reported missing Saturday during a 124-mile race from Newport Beach, Calif., to Ensenada, Mexico.

It was California’s second deadly accident this month involving an ocean race.

Race officials said they had few explanations for what may have happened to the Aegean other than it must have collided with a ship like a freighter or tanker that did not see the smaller vessel.

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, said Rich Roberts, a spokesman for the Newport Ocean Sailing Association, the race organizer.

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, Roberts said.

The Coast Guard said conditions were fine for sailing, with good visibility and moderate ocean swells of 6 to 8 feet. Officials had not yet determined the cause of the accident, and would not speculate late Sunday on what ship, if any, might have collided with the sailboat.

A race tracking system indicated the Aegean disappeared about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, he added.

Other yachts near the Coronado Islands in Mexico – four small, mostly uninhabited islands – reported seeing debris Saturday morning.

Two of the dead were William Reed Johnson Jr., 57, of Torrance, Calif., and Joseph Lester Stewart, 64, of Bradenton, Fla. The San Diego County medical examiner’s office was withholding the name of the third sailor pending notification of relatives.

The Aegean is registered to Theo Mavromatis, 49, of Redondo Beach, Calif. The race association didn’t know if he was aboard, but Gary Gilpin at Marina Sailing, which rents out the Aegean when Mavromatis isn’t using it, said the skipper took the yacht out earlier in the week for the competition.

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 Thursday.

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