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Racing sailboat struck island, investigators say

The accident that killed four crewmen competing in the race from Newport Beach to Ensenada occurred when the craft hit North Coronado Island, a review panel concludes.

June 13, 2012|By Mike Anton, Los Angeles Times

A sailboat participating in this year's Newport Beach-to-Ensenada race broke into pieces when it slammed into North Coronado Island in the dark of night, an independent review has concluded.

All four crew members were killed in the April 28 accident, which sank the 37-foot sailboat Aegean a few miles off the coast of Mexico.

The extent of the destruction — tiny pieces of debris were scattered over a wide area of ocean — led to initial speculation that a much larger ship had crushed the sailboat. The area is in a busy shipping lane leading to the harbors of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and experts said it was possible the crew aboard a cargo ship might not even be aware that their vessel had rammed a smaller boat.

But U.S. Sailing, the sport's governing body, said Tuesday its review concluded that the Aegean broke apart after hitting the island's rocky shoreline — its last location before disappearing from an online tracking system.

A panel of experienced sailors and expert consultants collected data from the tracking device aboard the Aegean and met with U.S. Coast Guard investigators and race organizers.

A full report by the group — which will include safety recommendations — is expected to be released in July. The Coast Guard is still investigating the incident and has yet to pinpoint a cause.

The accident killed William Reed Johnson, 57, of Torrance; Joseph Lester Stewart, 64, of Bradenton, Fla.; Kevin Rudolph, 53, of Manhattan Beach; and the Aegean's skipper, Theo Mavromatis, 49, of Redondo Beach.

Johnson, Rudolph and Mavromatis died of blunt-force trauma, while Stewart drowned, according to San Diego County's medical examiner.

The deaths were the first in the history of the race, which this year had 213 entries and has a history of attracting such world-class skippers as Dennis Conner, Bill Ficker and Dave Ullman, as well as celebrities such as Walter Cronkite, Buddy Ebsen and Humphrey Bogart.

The destruction of the Aegean came two weeks after a 38-foot sailboat was swamped by two rogue waves during a race around the Farallon Islands off San Francisco. Five of the eight crew members were killed.

mike.anton@latimes.com

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