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Fatal yacht accident: cause remains unknown

April 30, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
There's still no definite answer on what broke apart a yacht sailing in a race to Ensenada, Mexico. The Aegean left Newport Harbor on Friday morning with more than 200 other sailboats, but the yacht and its four-man crew never made it to Ensenada.

The race to Ensenada went 65 years without a fatality, but now they are dealing with three deaths and one missing man.

There were 213 boats that headed out to sea for Newport Ocean Sailing Association's Newport to Ensenada Race. But only 212 made it back to harbor.

The 37-foot yacht, the Aegean, was lost with a crew of four aboard. The Coast Guard says it recovered the bodies of Kevin Rudolph of Manhattan Beach, William Johnson Jr. of Torrance and Joseph Stewart of Florida.

One man is still missing. The Coast Guard has not released his name, but neighbors and coworkers say it is the boat's owner, Theo Mavromatis of Redondo Beach.

John Seepe worked with Mavromatis at Raytheon and kept his boat just three slips down from the missing skipper. He - like many in the King Harbor sailing community - are stunned.

The Sailing Association says the wreckage indicates the Aegean may have collided with a freighter or some other large ship. But Seepe finds that hard to believe.

"Seas are flat, starry night, no clouds. You could see stuff from a long way's off," he said.

Whatever struck the Aegean, Seepe thinks it was moving fast and should be easily tracked down.

"Whether it was illegal, or you got two militaries down there, Homeland Security, that whole area is extremely watched, so they know what time the transponder went off. They should be able to pinpoint who was exactly in that location," Seepe said.

James Lee, a former Naval Academy sailing instructor, was aboard one of the yachts in the race. He says modern equipment and sailing guidelines have taken much of the danger out of races like this.

"It's devastating for something like that to happen," Lee said. "Things like this should not happen at all."

Race organizers lost the GPS tracking signal from the Aegean around 1:30 a.m. Saturday. The Coast Guard is now trying to determine if there were any large ships in the area at that time.

Race officials said these fatalities are the first in the 65-year history of the event.


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