- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2008

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) | Four college students and a safety officer floated for more than a day in choppy seas, sharing four life vests after their sailboat capsized during a regatta on the Gulf of Mexico, authorities said Sunday. The body of a second safety officer was removed from the boat later.

The safety officer who survived kept the group together in the 4-to-6-foot seas, and used a flashlight to signal Coast Guard searchers, said R. Bowen Loftin, chief executive officer of Texas A&M; at Galveston, which three of the students attended.

The survivors were at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and were in good condition with sunburn and dehydration, Mr. Loftin said.

The men were resting and visiting with their families after 26 hours floating in the Gulf, said a hospital spokeswoman.

A helicopter crew from Air Station Houston pulled the five men from the water 23 miles south of Freeport, Texas, Petty Officer Renee C. Aiello said Sunday. They had drifted about five miles northwest of their capsized boat.

“I’ve talked to all of them, and they’re all doing fine,” he said.

Three of the students - Steven Guy, Joe Savana and Travis Wright - attend Texas A&M; at Galveston, the school said. The fourth, Ross James Buzbee, attends Texas A&M; in College Station, the school said.

The safety officer who kept the group together in the water was identified as Steve Conway of Texas A&M; at Galveston.

Rescuers searched for hours overhead and in the water for safety officer Roger Stone. Divers pulled his body from the 38-foot Cynthia Woods on Sunday afternoon, the Coast Guard said.

“We hope they can take some comfort in knowing all five survivors of this tragic accident credit Mr. Stone with heroic efforts that were instrumental in making possible their survival,” Mr. Loftin said. “We now know that Roger Stone died a hero in the classic sense of the word.”

The boat, which lost communication around midnight Friday, was competing in the Regata de Amigos. The race, which covers hundreds of miles from Galveston to Veracruz, Mexico, started Friday and continues into next week. The search for the boat began after it missed a radio check.

Coast Guard officials said the keel of the overturned vessel was ripped off, indicating the sailboat may have hit something in the water, according to the school. Race director Kevin Box said the loss of the keel can cause a boat to overturn in seconds.

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