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Sailboat runs aground in Venice; search on for missing skipper [Updated]

May 23, 2010 |  9:24 pm

A search involving air and sea rescue teams was underway off the Los Angeles County coastline for a possible missing man after a 26-foot sailboat washed ashore Sunday afternoon with no one on board.

The boat’s skipper, Tom Kirschbaum, 55, of Los Angeles, was participating in a race between Catalina Island and Marina del Rey, said county fire Inspector Matt Levesque.  Kirschbaum left the island about 9:30 Sunday morning.

[Updated at 10:15 p.m. Kirschbaum's wife, Gayle, said her husband, a partner at the Irell & Manella law firm, had completed the race to Catalina and was returning to Marina del Rey on Sunday.

She said he was an experienced solo sailor and had participated in the Transpac open-ocean race to Hawaii. "He was very sensible," she said. "If it was too rough, he wouldn't go."

"If he wasn't feeling well or anything, he would have stayed in Catalina."

She said he e-mailed before he left Sunday from Emerald Bay near the Two Harbors area of Catalina and everything appeared fine. She said she understood a GPS device found on board showed the boat had sailed a straight course from Catalina toward the Palos Verdes Peninsula area before turning north.]

The boat ran aground in Venice near the Navy Street lifeguard tower about 3:30 p.m.

It was not immediately clear if windy, unstable weather was involved.  “We did have extremely high surf and wind conditions,” Levesque said. Kirschbaum, who was on board alone, apparently was an experienced sailor and the vessel was well maintained with sophisticated electronic equipment, Levesque said. A cellphone and GPS device were found on the boat, and the Coast Guard used information stored on the location device to aid in the search.

Several Los Angeles County lifeguard and Fire Department boats were crisscrossing an area up to three miles off the coast Sunday evening. Coast Guard and Fire Department aircraft were searching overhead.  The search area was expected to be expanded overnight, Levesque said.

--Rich Connell