Wrecked California yacht had headed straight for island

Reuters News
Posted: May 02, 2012 10:08 PM
Wrecked California yacht had headed straight for island

By Ronnie Cohen

FAIRFAX, California (Reuters) - A GPS record tracing the path of a yacht that crashed mysteriously while racing from Southern California to Mexico showed the vessel sailing on a collision course into an island, U.S. Coast Guard officials said on Wednesday.

Investigators are exploring whether the 37-foot (11.3-meter) Aegean, whose four crew died when their boat was reduced to rubble last weekend, crashed into one of the Coronado islands or collided with a larger ship, Coast Guard Lieutenant Bill Burwell said.

Race organizers said the Aegean disappeared from satellite tracking at about 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, and the U.S. Coast Guard said bodies and debris from the yacht were found near the Coronado islands off the northwestern coast of Mexico.

The fatal wreck follows an April 14 sailboat racing accident near the Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco that killed five sailors and led the U.S. Coast Guard to temporarily suspend racing in the Pacific Ocean off northern California.

The Aegean sailors set off from Southern California on Friday to compete in the 65-year-old Newport to Ensenada Race. Burwell said a source close to one of the Aegean sailor's families had provided investigators with the login for a GPS tracking device believed to be aboard the boat.

The track shows the Aegean sailed for more than three hours on Friday night and into Saturday morning on a constant course and speed heading straight for North Coronado Island.

"That line points to the island," Burwell said. "One of the possible scenarios is the boat impacted the northern Coronado Island."

Two of the sailors killed in the crash died of blunt-force injuries, while a third crewman drowned, coroners reported.

The skipper, who also owned the Aegean, was lost at sea and presumed dead.

Burwell said investigators were studying the boat's path and examining debris to piece together the cause of the fatal crash.

"There's no shortage of possible scenarios that have been floated our way," he said, adding that he flew over the Coronado islands during the rescue effort, and the northern island looked like a "sheer cliff face."

A witness who saw the damaged boat reported it looked like it had been through a blender.

The three men whose bodies were recovered were Kevin Rudolph, 53; William Johnson Jr., 57; and Joseph Stewart, 64. Rudolph and Johnson lived in Southern California, and Stewart lived in Florida. The skipper, Theo Mavromatis was lost at sea.

(Editing By Cynthia Johnston and Todd Eastham)