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Missing sailboat skipper's body found off Long Beach

May 26, 2010 |  4:05 pm

A body found floating in the ocean Wednesday four miles off Long Beach has been identified as that of Los Angeles attorney Thomas Kirschbaum, who disappeared from his sailboat Sunday.

The Los Angeles County coroner’s office said Kirschbaum, 57, was wearing a life vest when he was spotted by a sport-fishing boat and later picked up by Long Beach police. There were no obvious signs of injury or foul play.

An autopsy will be performed in the next few days to determine the cause of death, said coroner’s department Capt. John Kades.

A wide-ranging search, covering 2,000 square miles and including helicopters, a C-130 airplane, a Coast Guard cutter and lifeguard boats, was launched after Kirschbaum’s 26-foot boat washed ashore empty Sunday afternoon near Venice. The search was called off Monday afternoon. Kirschbaum was a partner in the Century City-based law firm of Irell & Manella.

An experienced solo sailor, he was returning to the mainland after participating in a race Saturday that started in Marina del Rey, went around Santa Barbara Island and ended at the west end of Catalina Island.

The Coast Guard has noted that there were rough seas and winds of up to 35 mph off the coast when Kirschbaum was making the crossing.

But friends and Kirschbaum’s wife, Gayle, told The Times he was an experienced and cautious sailor who had participated in many single-handed, open ocean races, including the Transpacific competition between San Francisco and Hawaii and a 400-mile race off Northern California. His boat was outfitted with sophisticated navigation and auto-steering equipment and appeared to have no obvious mechanical problems when it came ashore.

 “How he ended up in the water and why we don’t know,” Kades said. “Did he just slip and fall? Or did he have some kind of cardiac episode?

“What happened in between [Catalina and the mainland] is really a mystery.”

-- Rich Connell

Photo: Grounded boat on Sunday. Katie Falkenberg/For The Times