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Coast Guard halts search for missing sailor

Attorney Tom Kirschbaum vanished while returning from race to Santa Catalina Island. His empty sailboat was found on the beach in Venice.

May 25, 2010|By Rich Connell, Los Angeles Times

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search Monday for an experienced sailor whose empty 30-foot sailboat ran aground on the beach one mile south of the Santa Monica Pier.

Tom Kirschbaum, an attorney, set out from Santa Catalina Island on Sunday morning, en route to the mainland. He was returning from a sailboat race.

Coast Guard vessels and aircraft searched for the missing skipper throughout the night, covering 2,000 square miles.

A human being could survive about nine hours in the chilly waters, a Coast Guard spokeswoman said.

Kirschbaum's wife, Gayle, told The Times that her husband had completed a race to Catalina and was scheduled to return Sunday to Marina del Rey.

"He was very sensible," she said. "If it was too rough, he wouldn't go."

Authorities reported high surf and gusty wind conditions Sunday, but it was unclear if they played a part in his disappearance.

"We did have extremely high surf and wind conditions," county fire Inspector Matt Levesque said.

Kirschbaum's wife said her husband, a partner at the Irell & Manella law firm, was an experienced solo sailor and had participated in the Transpacific Yacht Race to Hawaii.

"If he wasn't feeling well or anything, he would have stayed in Catalina," she said.

She said that he e-mailed before he left Sunday from Emerald Bay near the Two Harbors area of Catalina and that everything appeared fine. She said she understood that a GPS device found on board showed the boat had sailed a straight course from Catalina toward the Palos Verdes Peninsula before swinging north.

The boat ran aground in Venice near the Navy Street lifeguard tower about 3:30 p.m.

Kirschbaum, who was on board alone, kept his boat is top shape and stocked with sophisticated electronic equipment, Levesque said.

A cellphone and GPS device were found on the boat, and the Coast Guard used information stored on the location device to aid in the search.

Several Los Angeles County lifeguard and Fire Department boats crisscrossed an area up to three miles off the coast during the search.

rich.connell@latimes.com

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