Race yacht 'hit by a freighter'
A 37ft racing yacht was reduced to debris that looked like it had "gone through a blender", a searcher said, after the boat apparently collided with a larger vessel, killing three sailors and leaving a fourth missing.
The US Coast Guard, the Mexican navy and civilian vessels scoured the waters off the shore of both countries for the missing sailor from the Aegean, which was taking part in a 124-mile race that began on Friday from Newport Beach, California, to Ensenada, Mexico.
The yacht, carrying a crew of four, was reported missing on Saturday. It is California's second deadly accident this month involving an ocean race.
Race organisers said they had few explanations for what may have happened to the Aegean other than it must have collided with ship such as a freighter or tanker that did not see the smaller vessel. The coastguard said conditions were fine for sailing, with good visibility and moderate ocean swells of 6-8 feet.
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, said Rich Roberts, a spokesman for the Newport Ocean Sailing Association, which organised the race. The race goes through shipping lanes and it is possible for a large ship to hit a boat and not even know it, especially at night, Mr Roberts said.
A race tracking system indicated the Aegean disappeared at about 1.30am Pacific time on Saturday, he said. Searchers were focusing on an area about 10 miles off the Mexican coast and about 10 miles south of US waters, said coastguard petty officer Henry Dunphy.
Other yachts near the Coronado Islands in Mexico - four small, mostly uninhabited islands - reported seeing debris on Saturday morning.
Two of the dead were William Johnson, 57, of Torrance, California, and Joseph Stewart, 64, of Bradenton, Florida. The San Diego County Medical Examiner's office was withholding the name of the third sailor while relatives were being informed.
The Aegean is registered to Theo Mavromatis, 49, of Redondo Beach, California. The race association did not know if he was aboard, but Gary Gilpin at Marina Sailing, which rents out the Aegean when Mr Mavromatis is not using it, said the 49-year-old skipper took the yacht out earlier in the week for the competition.
The deaths come two weeks after five sailors died in the waters off Northern California when their 38ft yacht was hit by powerful waves, smashed into rocks and capsized during a race. Three sailors survived and the body of another was quickly recovered. Four remained missing until one body was recovered on Thursday. That accident, near the Farallon Islands, about 27 miles west of San Francisco, prompted the US Coast Guard to temporarily stop races in ocean waters outside San Francisco Bay.