Blunt-force trauma killed two in California-to-Mexico yacht race

LOS ANGELES Mon Apr 30, 2012 11:37pm EDT

A member of the U.S. Coast Guard reaches for a piece of flotsam during their search for the lone missing crew member of the yacht Aegean off the California coast in this April 29, 2012 frame grab from video. The Aegean went missing April 28, 2012 during the Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race off the coast of California. REUTERS/U.S. Coast Guard/Handout

A member of the U.S. Coast Guard reaches for a piece of flotsam during their search for the lone missing crew member of the yacht Aegean off the California coast in this April 29, 2012 frame grab from video. The Aegean went missing April 28, 2012 during the Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race off the coast of California.

Credit: Reuters/U.S. Coast Guard/Handout

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two sailors killed in a mysterious crash at sea that reduced their vessel to ruins during a yacht race from California to Mexico died of blunt-force injuries, while a third crewman drowned, coroners reported on Monday.

The finding of blunt-force trauma in two of the deaths aboard the 37-foot sailboat Aegean was further indication the impact was a powerful one. A fourth sailor was still missing as investigators sought to determine if the yacht struck another vessel, presumably a larger ship, or a land mass.

Race organizers said the Aegean disappeared from satellite tracking at about 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, and the U.S. Coast Guard said bodies and debris from the yacht were found near the Coronado Islands off the northwestern coast of Mexico.

The fatal wreck follows an April 14 sailboat racing accident at the Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco, which killed five sailors and led the U.S. Coast Guard to suspend racing in the Pacific Ocean off northern California.

The San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office said in a statement that Aegean sailors Kevin Rudolph, 53, and William Johnson Jr., 57, died of blunt-force injuries while Joseph Stewart, 64, drowned. Rudolph and Johnson were from Southern California, and Stewart lived in Florida, the office said.

The men were participating in the 65-year-old Newport to Ensenada Race, in which vessels set off from Southern California and dock in Mexico's Baja California.

U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Henry Dunphy said on Monday that an investigation of the tragedy was continuing.

The Newport Ocean Sailing Association, the organizer of this past weekend's race involving the Aegean and over 200 other boats, has said the Aegean appeared to have collided with a much larger vessel.

But Dunphy said that has not been conclusively determined. Investigators recovered pieces of the hull and personal belongings of the sailors, and they were interviewing captains of other boats that were in the area.

"At this point, we can't really rule out anything, whether or not it was a vessel-on-vessel collision or a collision with something else," Dunphy said.

Dunphy said, as a result of the latest fatal yacht accident, the Coast Guard could potentially suspend racing off the coast of Southern California.

"It could be an option going forward here. It's yet to be determined if there will be a stand-down," he said.

The sailor still missing is Theo Mavromatis, the owner of the Aegean, said Tom Cornelius, commodore of the Little Ships Fleet yacht club to which the Mavromatis belonged.

(Reporting and writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Steve Gorman)

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