Updated at 6:45 p.m. Sunday.
The search for a missing sailor who was on board an ill-fated yacht taking part in the Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race was halted Sunday afternoon, the U.S. Coast Guard reported.
Search crews and civilian volunteers combed more than 600 square miles looking for the missing man, but suspended the search at 4:15 p.m., according to Coast Guard officials. The sailor was on board the Aegean—along with three other men whose lifeless bodies were found Saturday off the shore of northern Mexico—when their sailboat broke apart in an apparent collision with a large vessel in an international shipping lane during the race, authorities reported.
William Reed Johnson Jr., 57, of Torrance, and Joseph Lester Stewart, 64, of Brandenton, Florida were among the victims of Saturday's deadly crash, the San Diego County Coroner reported this afternoon. The name of the third man has not yet been released until relatives can be notified. Their bodies were recovered by a civilian crew at 9:56 Saturday morning in a debris field in the Pacific Ocean, the coroner's office said.
“It’s never easy to make the decision to suspend a search and rescue case,” said Capt. Sean Mahoney, Commander Sector San Diego. “The Coast Guard extends its sympathies to the families and friends of the Aegean crew. They will be in our thoughts and prayers.”
The 37-foot Redondo Beach-based Aegean was skippered by its owner, Theo Mavromatis, and had its regular crew, according to Ray Pollock of Marina Sailing, which rents out the boat for Mavromatis. This was the seventh time Mavromatis had entered the race, according to results from the race’s official website. He won the race in 2011 and 2009.
The deadly accident, the first in the 65-year history of the yacht race, occurred Saturday near the Coronado Islands. Two unidentified victims were found by a civilian crew Saturday afternoon, and another was recovered by a Coast Guard helicopter crew.
“We don’t have any details of what happened to the boat,” Pollock said. “The boat was very seaworthy and had all the instruments you need to avoid collisions.”
Pollock said the Aegean had a brand-new engine and experienced crew.
“I’d probably rule out operator error,” he said.
The Aegean "vanished" from the online race tracking system at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, according to the Newport Ocean Sailing Association.
Overnight the U.S. Coast Guard, Mexican Navy and civilian search and rescue crews were searching for another missing crew member with the help of a Jayhawk helicopter, a 45-foot Response Boat, and a C-130 Hercules aircraft as well as the Coast Guard Cutter Sea Otter, a Mexican Navy vessel and civilian vessels.
"An investigation (is) continuing, but it appeared the damage was not inflicted by an explosion but by a collision with a ship much larger than the 37-foot vessel," Rich Roberts, the race's press officer, wrote in a news release. According to MSNBC, the course crosses "heavy shipping lanes off San Diego."
The U.S. Coast Guard says vessels in the area of the Coronado Islands saw debris at about 10 a.m. The Coast Guard launched an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, and a 33-foot response boat to search the area. The rear transom with the boat's name on it was found floating in the wreckage several miles off the California coast near the Mexican border, race officials said.
A statement issued on the NOSA's web site states, "NOSA is working with the U.S. Coast Guard, Vessel Assist and the Mexican Navy to find survivors and to determine details of the accident. NOSA and all of our racers send our condolences to the families of the sailors of the Aegean."
The cause of the fatal incident remains under investigation. The NOSA says weather conditions were lighter than normal at the time and place of the deadly incident, with boats reporting winds of only 1 or 2 knots.
The race's 213 participating boats set sail early Friday from the Balboa Pier. Since 1983, 675 boats have competed in the famed race.
Mavromatis is president and chief executive of Aegean Consulting, Inc. which specializes in the telecommunications and aerospace industries. Race officials did not have a crew list immediately available.