ENSENADA, Mexico — A 37-foot racing yacht was reduced to debris that looked it “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 from the Aegean, which was taking part in a 124-mile race that began Friday from Newport Beach, Calif., to Ensenada, Mexico. The sailboat, carrying a crew of four, was reported missing Saturday.
It was California’s second deadly accident this month involving an ocean race.
Race officials said they had few explanations for what might have happened to the Aegean other than it must have collided with ship like a freighter or tanker that did not see the smaller vessel. The Coast Guard said conditions were fine for sailing, with good visibility and moderate ocean swells of 6-to-8 feet.
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, said Rich Roberts, a spokesman for the Newport Ocean Sailing Association, the race organizer.
A race tracking system indicated the Aegean disappeared about 4:30 a.m. EDT Saturday, he added.
Searchers were focusing on an area about 10 miles off the Mexican coast and about 10 miles south of U.S. waters, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Henry Dunphy.
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, said Gary Gilpin at Marina Sailing, which rents out the Aegean when Mavromatis isn’t using it.
Eric Lamb was the first to find debris of the boat – most no larger than six inches – scattered over about two square miles Saturday as he worked safety patrol on the race. He saw a refrigerator, a white seat cushion and empty containers of yogurt and milk.
“We pulled a lot of boats off the rocks over the years and boats that hit the rocks, they don’t look like that. This was almost like it had gone through a blender,” said Lamb, 62.
A Coast Guard helicopter circling overhead directed him and a partner to two floating bodies. Both had severe cuts and bruises, and one of them had major head trauma.
Two race participants who were in the area at the time the Aegean disappeared said they saw or heard a freighter.