GPS suggests racing yacht hit rocks off Mexico

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By BERNIE WILSON and ELLIOT SPAGAT, Associated Press

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A website that tracks boats by GPS says an American yacht that was mysteriously destroyed during a Pacific Ocean race ended up on the rocky shore of an island off Mexico's northern coast.

Investigators have yet to determine what happened to the 37-foot Aegean, but the GPS tracking potentially undercuts the theory that it collided with a large ship.

Coast Guard investigators have not recovered the GPS device but will consider the coordinates as they try to determine what caused the crash that killed three sailors and left one missing, said Lt. Bill Burwell, an agency spokesman,

Investigators are also scrutinizing the sailboat's debris, interviewing race participants and seeking records of any large ships in the area, Burwell said.

The GPS tracking information indicates the GPS device landed on Mexico's Coronado Islands about 1:30 a.m. PDT Saturday at a speed of about 6 knots. The coordinates were the last posted by the ship a day after leaving Newport Beach, where the 124-mile race began.

The maker of the device was Spot LLC, a unit of Globalstar Inc. Its palm-sized gadgets track movements of sailors and other outdoor enthusiasts.

Michael Patton, a spokesman for the yacht owner's family, said the tracking shows the GPS device landed on the rocks but not necessarily the boat. He dismissed the theory that the boat hit rocks because debris found just offshore was too small.

"Look at the destruction of it all," Patton said. "You're talking about it being squished."

Eric Lamb, who stumbled on the wreckage Saturday while on safety patrol, said debris strewn over 2 square miles looked as if the boat had "gone through a blender."

The San Diego County medical examiner has said Kevin Eric Rudolph, 53, of Manhattan Beach; William Reed Johnson Jr., 57, of Torrance; and Joseph Lester Stewart, 64, of Bradenton, Fla., all died in the crash. The boat's skipper was missing.

The coroner's report listed all three deaths as accidents but did not say what could have caused the wreck.

Race organizers have said they don't see what could have caused the accident other than a collision with a larger vessel. But Burwell, a Coast Guard pilot who helped locate the three bodies, has said he wasn't ruling out that the yacht collided with rocks on the Coronado Islands.

The deaths came two weeks after five sailors were killed in the waters off Northern California when their 38-foot yacht was hit by powerful waves and ran aground on a rocky island.

By ocean racing standards, the number of casualties in the two races is startling. Previous major ocean racing disasters have been caused by freak storms, including the one that killed 15 sailors in the Irish Sea in the 1979 Fastnet Race and one that killed six in the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race.

Gary Jobson, president of the U.S. Sailing Association, said the group would look at the GPS coordinates as part of its investigation.

Mavromatis was a sailor his entire life and did not appear to have ever faced scrutiny about safety, said Conrad Thieme of Marina Sailing, which rented the yacht on his behalf.

Mavromatis previously won the race in his category.

"Based on his sailing resume, this whole occurrence is really surprising," Thieme said.

The deaths were the first fatalities in the race's 65 years.

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Spot LLC's GPS track of the destroyed yacht:

http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0PPpktkSXb0QR2ojCNeoelyfYAx2eVZzF

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