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Yacht deaths: Other vessels sought in incident that killed 4

April 30, 2012 | 12:53 pm

Maritime investigators were attempting Monday to track down vessels that were in the waters off San Diego when a 37-foot sloop competing in the Newport-to-Ensenada yacht race disappeared in the dark Saturday.

All four sailors aboard the Aegean were lost.

Coast Guard officials are still investigating the apparent destruction of the boat, though racing officials believe it may have been hit by a freighter or tanker near the Coronado Islands.

Three bodies have been found, all recovered from a trail of debris floating about 15 miles south of San Diego.

After scouring a 600-square-mile area Sunday with ships and aircraft, the Coast Guard on late Sunday suspended its search indefinitely for the fourth crew member. "We've exhausted all possibilities," said a spokesman.

Regatta organizers said they believed the boat was hit and demolished by a much larger ship — perhaps a freighter or tanker. The boat disappeared from the online tracking system around 1:30 a.m. Saturday.

Two sailors on other boats recalled seeing a large ship in the area.

Freighters and tankers can travel at deceiving speeds and are capable of covering a mile is less than three minutes, said David Lee, a competitor in the annual yachting race and a part-time sailing instructor at UC Irvine.

"We're still trying to piece it together,” said Chuck Iverson, commodore of the Newport Ocean Sailing Assn., sponsor of the 125-mile race.

The deaths were the first in the history of the race, which this year had 213 entries and has a history of attracting such world-class skippers as Dennis Conner, Bill Ficker and Dave Ullman, as well as celebrities such as Walter Cronkite, Buddy Ebsen and Humphrey Bogart.

The destruction of the Aegean comes two weeks after a 38-foot sailboat was swamped by two rogue waves during a race around the Farallon Islands off San Francisco. Five of the eight crew members were killed.


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--Tony Perry in San Diego