ENSENADA, Mexico (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 tragedy this month.
The 37-foot Aegean, carrying a crew of four, was reported missing Saturday during a 125-mile Newport Beach, Calif. to Ensenada, Mexico yacht race, 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, Roberts later told The Associated Press, speaking by phone from Ensenada.
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.
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 Aegean is registered to Theo Mavromatis, 49, of Redondo Beach. The race association didn't know if he was aboard the boat during the race. Marina Sailing in Redondo Beach lists a boat named Aegean, which matches the model and length of the missing vessel, among the boats it rents out for $325 a day.
A woman answering a call at a number listed for Mavromatis declined to speak Sunday morning.
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.