Collision suspected in yacht mishap that killed 3

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A yacht involved in a race off the coast of California and Mexico apparently collided at night with a much larger vessel, leaving three crew members dead and one missing, a sailing organization said early Sunday. It was the state’s second ocean-racing incident this month.

The 37-foot Aegean, carrying a crew of four, was reported missing Saturday during a 125-mile yacht race from Newport Beach, Calif., to Ensenada, Mexico, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The Newport Ocean Sailing Association, the race organizer, said the accident occurred late Friday or early Saturday several miles off the coast near the ocean border of the two countries.

“It appeared the damage was not inflicted by an explosion but by a collision with a ship much larger than the 37-foot vessel,” association spokesman Rich Roberts said in a news release early Sunday.

Race officials believe there are few other possibilities for what caused the accident, Mr. Roberts later told the Associated Press by phone from Ensenada.

Boats tack for position before the start of the Newport Ocean Sailing Association's Newport-to-Ensenada yacht race on Friday, April 27, 2012, in Corona Del Mar, Calif. (AP Photo/The Orange County Register, Ken Steinhardt)

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Boats tack for position before the start of the Newport Ocean Sailing ... more >

He said details were still scarce, but it was possible that if the smaller boat was bobbing around in light wind, the crew might not have been able to get out of the way of a larger ship, perhaps a freighter. The race goes through shipping lanes, and it’s possible for a large ship to hit a sailboat and not even know it, especially at night, he said.

Mr. Roberts said a race tracking system indicated that the boat disappeared about 1:30 a.m. PDT Saturday.

A Coast Guard search turned up the boat’s wreckage, including the rear transom with the boat’s name on it, the association release said.

Three crew members of the sailboat were found dead, and a search was under way early Sunday for the fourth. Coast Guard boats and two aircraft as well as Mexican navy and civilian vessels were involved.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Henry Dunphy said Sunday that searchers were focusing on an area about 10 miles off the Mexican coast and about 10 miles south of U.S. waters.

The names of the dead were not released pending notification of next of kin.

The Newport Beach Patch website posted a photo that shows the crew at the start of the race Friday. Four men in royal blue T-shirts are on the deck as the boat cuts through calm waters. One man is waving and another appears to be smiling.

Other yachts near the Coronado Islands in Mexico — four small, mostly uninhabited islands — reported seeing debris Saturday morning. Searchers in the afternoon found the bodies and debris from the Aegean, the home port of which is Redondo Beach, Petty Officer Dunphy said

Two of the dead were recovered by a civilian boat, while the third was found by a Coast Guard helicopter.

The Coast Guard said earlier that it hadn’t determined what happened to the sailboat.

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