US Sailing to review fatal accident

Updated: May 14, 2012, 6:04 PM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Sailing's national governing body will try to determine what caused an accident that killed four sailors during last month's yacht race from Southern California to Mexico.

US Sailing has appointed an independent review panel to look into the destruction of the 37-foot sailboat Aegean during the annual overnight Newport-to-Ensenada Yacht Race, the organization said Monday.

The 37-foot boat was smashed to pieces near Mexico's Coronado Islands before dawn April 28.

The small size of the pieces led to speculation that the Aegean was struck by a large vessel such as a freighter. However, a GPS track of the boat led straight to the islands, which rise sharply out of the Pacific south of San Diego. That has led to the suggestion that the boat struck the rocks during the night and was pounded to pieces.

The accident killed the captain, Theo Mavromatis, 49, of Redondo Beach, and crewmembers Kevin Eric Rudolph, 53, of Manhattan Beach; William Reed Johnson Jr., 57, of Torrance; and Joseph Lester Stewart, 64, of Bradenton, Fla.

They were the first deaths in the 65-year history of the race.

The review panel, comprised of offshore sailing, safety and medical experts, also will examine safety policies, procedures and use of safety equipment. Its initial findings and recommendations will be released next month.

US Sailing also is reviewing an April accident that killed five sailors in a race outside San Francisco Bay.

The U.S. Coast Guard in San Diego already is investigating the Aegean accident, and its probe may overlap with that of US Sailing, said Lt. Bill Fitzgerald, the lead Coast Guard investigator.

The goal of both probes "is to find out what happened and what may have happened in order to try to prevent this from happening again," he said.

The Coast Guard has not yet identified a probably cause of the accident, he added.

Investigators are analyzing information gathered by examining the debris, records of the yacht and other vessels and interviewing other racers. A report could be released within a few months, Fitzgerald said.


Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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