At Least Three Yacht Racers Killed In Apparent Collision with Large Cargo Ship off California Coast [UPDATED]

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May 1, 2012

UPDATE:  The Latitude 38 blog reports that other boats in the race reported have a close encounter with a large ship around the time and in the same vacinity.

Michael Lawler, a crewmember aboard the Newport Beach-based Choate 48 Amante, reports having a close encounter with a freighter in the same vicinity and time as Aegean‘s tracker stopped working. “We were farther offshore, about 10-12 miles west of the Coronados,” says Lawler. “Around 1:30 a.m., I went on watch and saw a freighter bearing down on us at what was probably 20 knots. His range lights were lined up and I could see both red and green bow lights. I didn’t have time to get on the radio, so I grabbed my two million-candlepower spotlight and aimed it at the ship. That caught his attention and he took a hard left turn to take our stern. He passed about 1/4 mile behind us.” Lawler, who circumnavigated aboard his North Wind 47 Traveller, says the wind was light, the seas were a little lumpy, and visibility was good.

However, a recently discovered feed of the Aegean’s SPOT Messenger showing the satellite track of the vessel (above), last updated at approximately 1:36 a.m., with the vessel directly on top of North Coronado Island, suggesting the vessel may have broken up on the rocks of the island.

This chart shows the search area for the sailing vessel Aegean. U.S. Coast Guard graphic (click for high res)

Original: At least three sailors competing in a yacht race from Newport Beach, CA to Ensenada, Mexico have been killed and one still remains missing after an apparent collision with a large cargo ship.

Newport Ocean Sailing Association (NOSA), host of the N2E annual regatta, said that the sailboat Aegean, a Hunter 376 representing the Little Ships Fleet club, vanished from the race’s online tracking system at approximately 1:30 a.m. Saturday.  Hours later, vessels in the area of the Coronado Islands reported finding debris in the water, which prompted the launch of a Coast Guard search leading to the discovery of the wreckage, including the rear transom with the vessel’s name on it.

By mid afternoon, the bodies of three crewmembers and loads of badly beaten debris had been recovered.  The search for the fourth crewmember continued Sunday, but was called off Sunday afternoon by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The cause of the incident is still under investigation, but initial reports indicate that the incident appears to be the result of collision with a much larger ship that did not see or even likely know of the collision.

“It was real obvious it had been hit just because the debris was so small,” a searcher told the Pasadena Star-News. The yacht looked like it “had gone through a blender.”

On Monday, it was revealed that the sailbot did not issue a distress signal or mayday.

A crew list was not immediately available, nor was it first known how many other crew may have been on the boat, but could have been sailed by five or more persons, said NOSA in a statement

The race started off Newport Beach in mid-day Friday and many boats finished in Ensenada Saturday, with the last ones due in Sunday. Weather conditions were lighter than normal at the time and place of the incident, with boats reporting winds of only 1 or 2 knots.

The incident marks the first fatalities in the 65-year history of the race, which saw 213 boats enter this year.

The crew of the Hunter 376 Aegean at Friday's start to the Newport to Ensenada Race. © 2012 Susan Hoffman via Latitude 38 blog
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