Editor's note: This story was originally published on Sunday, April 29 at 12 a.m.
U.S. Coast Guard officials have suspended the search for a missing sailor who was part of a four man crew aboard a yacht sailing in the Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race. Authorities believe the ill-fated Aegean may have collided with a larger vessel off the shore of northern Mexico in an international shipping lane.
Search crews combed more than 600 square miles over the weekend looking for the missing sailor before halting their efforts about 4:15 p.m. Sunday, the Coast Guard reported. William Reed Johnson Jr., 57, of Torrance, and Joseph Lester Stewart, 64, of Bradenton, Fla. perished in the deadly crash, the San Diego County Coroner reported. Friends told Patch that the third crewman was Kevin Rudolph, a Los Angeles area resident. The bodies were recovered by civilian and helicopter crews at 9:56 a.m. Saturday in a debris field in the Pacific Ocean, officials said.
“It’s never easy to make the decision to suspend a search and rescue case,” said Capt. Sean Mahoney, Commander Sector San Diego. “The Coast Guard extends its sympathies to the families and friends of the Aegean crew. They will be in our thoughts and prayers.”
The 37-foot Redondo Beach-based Aegean was skippered by its owner, Theo Mavromatis, and had its regular crew, according to Ray Pollock of Marina Sailing, which rents out the boat for Mavromatis. This was the seventh time Mavromatis had entered the race, according to results from the race’s official website. He won the race in 2011 and 2009.
Mike Patton, who was supposed to have sailed on the Aegean in the Lexus Newport Beach to Ensenada Yacht Race, speculated late Sunday that Mavromatis probably went down with the sailboat, which apparently collided with a larger vessel.
"Everyone's been saying I'm the luckiest guy in the world," Patton said. "I don't feel that way."
The deadly accident, the first in the 65-year history of the yacht race, occurred Saturday near the Coronado Islands.
“We don’t have any details of what happened to the boat,” Pollock said. “The boat was very seaworthy and had all the instruments you need to avoid collisions.”
Pollock said the Aegean had a brand-new engine and experienced crew.
“I’d probably rule out operator error,” he said.
The Aegean "vanished" from the online race tracking system at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, according to the Newport Ocean Sailing Association.
"An investigation (is) continuing, but it appeared the damage was not inflicted by an explosion but by a collision with a ship much larger than the 37-foot vessel," Rich Roberts, the race's press officer, wrote in a news release.
The U.S. Coast Guard says vessels in the area of the Coronado Islands saw debris at about 10 a.m. Saturday. The Coast Guard launched an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, and a 33-foot response boat to search the area. The rear transom with the boat's name on it was found floating in the wreckage several miles off the California coast near the Mexican border, race officials said.
A statement issued on the NOSA's web site states, "NOSA is working with the U.S. Coast Guard, Vessel Assist and the Mexican Navy to find survivors and to determine details of the accident. NOSA and all of our racers send our condolences to the families of the sailors of the Aegean."
The cause of the fatal incident remains under investigation. The NOSA says weather conditions were lighter than normal at the time and place of the deadly incident, with boats reporting winds of only 1 or 2 knots.
The race's 213 participating boats set sail early Friday from the Balboa Pier. Since 1983, 675 boats have competed in the famed race.
Mavromatis is president and chief executive of Aegean Consulting, Inc. which specializes in the telecommunications and aerospace industries.