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Disaster strikes again for a sailing race

A 37-foot boat and its crew are lost in the Newport Beach-to-Ensenada regatta, possibly after being struck in the night by a much larger ship. Three bodies are recovered, and the search for a fourth crew member is suspended.

April 30, 2012|By Mona Shadia, Mike Reicher and Steve Virgen, Daily Pilot and Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times

In 2010, the latest year for which statistics were available, six accidents involving recreational boaters were reported to the Coast Guard three miles or more into the Pacific Ocean — with only one fatality.

On Sunday, anguished family members of the four Aegean crew members waited for an explanation.

"I don't understand why it happened," said Leslie Rudolph, whose husband, Kevin, 53, was a crew member. "There were 210 boats. Why their boat?"

Rudolph was a co-worker with the sailboat owner and skipper Theo Mavromatis. He was not an avid sailor but had taken up the sport in recent years and enjoyed the challenge and camaraderie.

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Rudolph had done the Newport-to-Ensenada race three times, his wife said.

"There is nobody like him," Leslie Rudolph said from their Manhattan Beach home. "He's special, he brought joy to everyone."

The San Diego County medical examiner identified two of the victims as Joseph Lester Stewart, 64, of Bradenton, Fla., and William Reed Johnson, 57, of Torrance.

Mavromatis' family declined to speak to a reporter inquiring whether he was aboard his boat.

The Aegean crew members had been uploading pictures and posts to a website so that friends and family members could trace their progress. Organizers had an online tracking system to keep them apprised of the boats, which had left Newport on Friday amid festivities.

When the Aegean's image vanished from the system early Saturday morning, organizers contacted the Coast Guard.

By mid-morning, a debris field was located, including the rear transom with the boat's name on it. Two of the three bodies were found by civilian boaters. The bodies were airlifted to the San Diego County medical examiner's office for identification.

The Coast Guard and Mexican navy continued searching through Saturday night, joined at daybreak by Coast Guard aircraft. Civilian boaters reported the debris field, which consisted of small chunks of wood, suggesting that the Aegean had been rammed and demolished.

Eric Lamb, who works for Vessel Assist, a private maritime assistance firm, was one of the first on scene, spotting a small refrigerator, a seat cushion and some food containers in the water. The two bodies, he said, had cuts and bruises and looked as if they had been dragged along the hull of the boat.

He said the debris "looked like it had gone through a blender."

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