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Yacht deaths: one drowned, others died from blunt-force trauma

April 30, 2012 |  6:49 pm

Two of the four crewman who were lost when a 37-foot sailboat was destroyed during the annual Newport to Ensenada boat race died of blunt-force trauma, while a third drowned.

The body of the fourth crewman, identified by race organizers as skipper Theo Mavromatis, has not been recovered.

The U.S. Coast Guard is attempting to determine what caused the destruction of the boat off the Mexican coast, though investigators said it’s likely that the boat hit a tanker or freighter west of the Coronado Islands, roughly 15 miles south of San Diego.

And based on the level of destruction – small pieces of the boat were found spread over a wide area – it may be no one aboard the much larger ship that’s believed to have rammed the Aegean ever realized it.

“It’s possible they had no idea that they’d hit something,” said Brad Avery, director of Orange Coast College’s School of Sailing & Seamanship in Newport Beach. “It’s every small boater’s worst nightmare,” he added.

Of the three bodies recovered Saturday west of the Coronado Islands, none was wearing a life jacket.

After scouring a 600-square-mile area Sunday with ships and aircraft, the Coast Guard suspended its search for Mavromatis, a veteran of the race.

“We've exhausted all possibilities,” said a spokesman.

While the Coast Guard on Monday said it couldn’t definitely say the Aegean was struck by another boat, race organizers say the debris doesn’t suggest an explosion and that two sailors on other boats reported seeing a much larger vessel in the area.

Without discounting the likelihood of a collision, the Coast Guard noted that the last known position of Aegean was close to a rocky shoreline on one of the Coronado Islands.

But the area west of the Coronado Islands where the Aegean was hit also is a common path for tankers and freighters heading to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

“Everybody on the water has an obligation to keep a good lookout,” said Joe Derie, a retired Coast Guard lieutenant commander who works as a marine accident investigator. “You shouldn’t ever be surprised.”

The three recovered bodies have been identified as William Reed Johnson, 57, of Torrance; Joseph Lester Stewart, 64, of Bradenton, Fla.. and Kevin Rudolph, 53, of Manhattan Beach.

Johnson and Rudolph died from blunt-force trauma, San Diego County’s medical examiner said late Monday, while Stewart drowned.

 “I didn’t like him doing the races,” said Rudolph’s wife, Leslie. “I mean, they were out in the middle of the ocean. I always used to worry.”

It was the first fatal accident in the 65-year history of the sailing regatta.

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